Will Harvard Pay Test Victims?

WALTHAM, Mass.--Boston attorney David White-Lief stepped up to the reporter, shook his hand and answered the question of the day, squarely.

"I think Harvard should pay," he said. "I think MIT should pay. I think the common-wealth of Massachusetts should pay."

White-Lief's straightforward answer, given to the question of who should compensate the victims of Cold War-era radiation tests, was rare at Monday's press conference here to discuss a state report on the experiments.

Like many others at the news briefing at the Walter E. Fernald State School, White-Lief, a member of the task force which prepared the report, argued that the tests violated the human rights of the retarded children on which they were conducted. And White-Lief, chair of Fernald's human rights committee,

joined other task force members in recommendingcompensation for the victims of the tests.

But despite a surface of unanimity, the state'sinvestigation into decades-old experiments isslowly giving way to a new controversy overrestitution to victims of the tests.

On Monday, state and University officialsdeflected questions about compensation. Some saidthe federal government should shoulder the burden;Frederick M. Misilo Jr., the task force chair,called for further study of the question.

"We're trying to get the state and federalgovernment involved," said task force member DorisManson, a retired Department of Motor Vehiclesemployee whose daughter Dorothy has been living atFernald since 1947 but was not among those tested."I don't know if the government will go afterprivate universities."

Joe Wrinn, a University spokesperson who waspresent at the press conference, said "it's tooearly to speculate" on that and other issues.

But White-Lief, noticeably breaking ranks withother task force members, said Harvard and MITmust pay for the radiation tests that theirresearchers performed.

While Harvard's statement on the matter made nomention of compensation, an MIT official at thepress conference presented what could become theUniversity's argument on the issue.

J. David Litster, vice president and dean forresearch at MIT, seized on the task force'sfinding that most of the experiments did not causeany negative health effects.

I think the task force has concluded that noharm was done," Litster said in an interview afterthe press conference.

"I think that if you're going to compensate,there should be something to compensate for,"Litster said.

But Richard Krant, a task force member and theparent of a Fernald student, said he thinks thesubjects of the experiment still have a claim.

"These people who we have been able to identifyhave suffered sever psychological damage as aresult of these experiments," Krant said. "Thesepeople are certainly entitled to compensation."

Calls for compensation may become even louderwhen victims of a 1961 experiment at the WrenthamState School, another Massachusetts institutionfor the retarded, are identified.

In that test, which was organized and run byHarvard researchers, children from ages one to 11were given doses of radioactive iodine. Task forcemembers were strongest in their condemnation ofthat experiment, with some suggesting that thesubjects of the iodine tests likely sufferedhealth problems as a result.

The state says it will continue itsinvestigation into the Wrentham experiment atleast until June.

If it wants to avoid compensating victims,Harvard may have to argue that it is notresponsible for the actions of its researchers,even though documents show that Universityscientists were using their Harvard titles inappealing for the experiment.

And any Harvard defense of its researchers islikely to be undermined by the documents found inthe task force report.

For example, Dr. Clemens E. Benda, a HarvardMedical School faculty member, was so closelyinvolved in the testing at Fernald that he wrote aletter to the mother of a Fernald patient askingher to delay the family vacation because her son"is cooperating in a science test and it isextremely important that he be here on the 1st and2nd of July."

And any effort by Harvard to avoid compensationis likely to raise at least the ire of White-Lief.

"[The University researchers] violated therights of those people," he said