State Report Says Radiation Tests Violated Subjects' Rights

Harvard Faculty, Researchers Implicated in Cold War Era Experimentation; State Says Subjects Should Be Compensated

WALTHAM, Mass.--A state report released today here at the Walter E. Fernald State School finds that Harvard and MIT researchers conducted experiments with radiation "in violation of the fundamental human rights" of scores of retarded students during the 1940s '50s and '60s.

The report, which details the use of radioactive materials in human subject research from 1943 to 1973, recommends that "all participants...should be compensated for any and all damage incurred as a result of the studies."

Frederick M. Misilo Jr., the chair of the state Task Force to Review Human Subject Research, said the nutrition studies conducted at Fernald in the 1940s and '50s caused "no significant health effects" to the tests subjects.

But the task forced recommended that the test subjects be entitled to federal benefits for any medical diagnoses and treatments related to the experiments.

"The call for compensation stems from the findings that there were violations of basic rights in the research," Misilo said.

Documents included in the report as well as others obtained by The Crimson show that the tests were led by the late Dr. Clemens E. Benda, who was Fernald's medical director at the time and also a faculty member at the Harvard Medical School.

David White-Lief, a member of the task force and chair of the Fernald Human Rights Committee, said Harvard and MIT should bear part of the costs of compensation.

"I think Harvard should pay," he said. "I think MIT should pay. I think the Commonwealth of Massachusetts should pay. They violated the rights of those people."

But Misilo and all other task force members declined to say whether Harvard and MIT should contribute to any compensation.

"Harvard and MIT played a role. The researchers were from these institutions But [compensation] as a question which has to be decided by others. Harvard and MIT were involved...It's a question of people who have the means," Misilo said. When asked, he declined to say whether he considered Harvard and MIT institutions which "have the means."

The task force used records donated to Harvard by Benda's estate to identify 57 subjects of nutrition experiments.

In the 1940s, '50s and '60s, Harvard had extraordinarily close ties to Fernald, according to a 1959 report. Scores of Medical School, School of Public Health and other graduate students attended annual lectures, workshops and demonstrations at the school.

Acting Vice President for Government Community and Public Affairs Jane H. Corlette said today in a telephone interview that she could not discuss the report or its findings until she had read it. "It's way too early to comment," Corlette said.

A statement released this afternoon by the University news office said Harvard officials are still reviewing the report.

"It's too early to speculate," said University spokesperson Joe Wrinn, the only Harvard official who attended this morning's press conference at which the task force released the report.