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New Details Emerge in Case of Tests on Human Subjects

Harvard Had Close Ties to State School for Retarded

By Andrew L. Wright

In the 1940s, `50s and `60s, Harvard had extraordinarily close ties to a Waltham school for the retarded where University researchers performed tests which exposed unwitting students to radioactivity, according to a 1959 report.

The report, which was obtained by The Crimson, discusses the details of cooperative training programs between universities and residential facilities for the mentally ill. It cites Harvard as having close, although informal, ties to the Fernald State School in Waltham.

"There are currently no formal contacts between Harvard and Fernald, although lectures and tours of the facility are given each semester at Fernald to groups of residents in psychiatry from the Children's Hospital who are in the Harvard Resident Training Program," says the report, which was authored by Darrel A. Hindman.

The 1959 report is significant because it shows that Harvard used Fernald for more than just experiments with radioactivity.

Scores of Medical School, School of Public Health and other graduate students attended annual lectures, workshops and demonstrations at the Waltham school, according to the report.

Each semester, between 40 and 50 students from the School of Public Health came to Fernald for a lecture on mental deficiency and a demonstration clinic, according to the report.

The published study lists several Medical School professors as having close ties to the school. None of the professors are currently listed as Harvard faculty members, and many are believed dead. None could be reached for comment.

Harvard physicians and students also attended an annual series of lectures given at Fernald by "outstanding specialists in the fields of neurology and psychiatry," according to the report, titled "Cooperative Programs of Training and Research in Mental Retardation."

Last month, Harvard assembled a task force to investigate its connection to experiments performed at Fernald by Dr. Clemens Ernst Benda, a Medical School instructor who was also the director of clinical psychiatry at the school for the retarded.

In 1954, Benda published the results of a study in which students at the school were fed radioactive milk with their breakfast cereal without their knowledge in an attempt to monitor their intake of calcium.

The complete papers of Benda, who died in 1975,are stored at the Countway Medical Library at theMedical School.

In stark contrast to officials of the generallysecretive U.S. Department of Energy, which hasopened many of its files on radiation experimentsto the public, Harvard lawyers ordered the Bendapapers sealed two weeks ago.

Because Benda's files are now closed, theextent of his experimentation on the students isnot known. There were reportedly several otherstudies involving radioactive tracers done at theschool during Benda's tenure. But it is not clearif Benda or other Harvard researchers weredirectly involve.

Dozens of scientists and radiation protectionexperts from across the country have said ininterviews with The Crimson that the amount ofradiation used on Fernald students did not pose asignificant health threat.

But Harvard ethics and mental health expertshave expressed shock and outrage that such testingwould occur on a vulnerable, segregated segment ofthe population. Students used in the experimentshave said repeatedly that they were not informedof the radiation involved in the tests.

Benda: A Profile

The University's refusal to disclose Benda'spapers is not the only thing clouding a fullunderstanding of Harvard's involvement.

Harvard officials say that poor record-keepingfrom four decades ago and the fact that many ofBenda's colleagues have died or moved away are twofactors that have hindered the Universityinvestigation ad any subsequent public disclosure.

The little information that can be gleanedabout Benda--through profiles of the doctor, hispublished experiments and his ownwriting--presents a picture of a concerned,diligent scientist who strived for better care forthe afflicted.

For example, a New York Times article from May6, 1950, recalls that in a speech to the 106thmeeting of the American Psychiatric Association inDetroit, Benda urged that terms such as "mentaldeficiency, idiocy and imbecility" be discardedwhen speaking of the mentally retarded.

Benda told the psychiatric association thatmental deficiency was not stationary and, in fact,could be reversed. He asked that state schools forthe mentally retarded be transformed intopsychiatric hospital-schools to care for and trainchildren.

"Like the child with cerebral palsy who is nowgenerally accepted, the child with mongolism needsthe consideration, love, and understanding thatshould be accorded any afflicted individual,"Benda wrote in a 1969 revision of his 1960 book,Down's Syndrome: Mongolism and ItsManagement.

In his book, Benda called for teachers andphysicians interacting with children with Down'ssyndrome to "understand their particular behaviorpatterns and educational needs."

Benda appears to have severed his ties to theUniversity in 1964--the last time his name appearsin a Medical School faculty directory.

The doctor taught neuropsychiatry at Harvardand a handful of other area medical schools,including Tufts, and at several now-defuncthospitals. He was also an associate professor atClark University in Worcester, Mass.

Benda assisted in holding annual seminars atthe Fernald School beginning in 1935. Fernald,founded in 1847, had a total resident populationslightly less than 2,500 during Benda's timethere.

Hindman's 1959 report says that "Dr. Bendamaintains an out-standing research laboratory atFernald."

"Excellent training is provided for medicalstudents who work with Dr. Benda...to see whatgoes on at a school and a hospital for theretarded," the report says.

Benda was highly respected in the medicalcommunity of his time. He held many officialpositions on national medical boards and was apioneer in the detection and treatment of Down'ssyndrome.

After graduating from medical school in Berlinin 1922, Benda practiced psychiatry in Germanyuntil 1935. He came America in 1936 to become theclinical director of the Wrenthem State School inWrenthem, Mass.

In 1947 he began work at Fernald, where heserved until 1962

The complete papers of Benda, who died in 1975,are stored at the Countway Medical Library at theMedical School.

In stark contrast to officials of the generallysecretive U.S. Department of Energy, which hasopened many of its files on radiation experimentsto the public, Harvard lawyers ordered the Bendapapers sealed two weeks ago.

Because Benda's files are now closed, theextent of his experimentation on the students isnot known. There were reportedly several otherstudies involving radioactive tracers done at theschool during Benda's tenure. But it is not clearif Benda or other Harvard researchers weredirectly involve.

Dozens of scientists and radiation protectionexperts from across the country have said ininterviews with The Crimson that the amount ofradiation used on Fernald students did not pose asignificant health threat.

But Harvard ethics and mental health expertshave expressed shock and outrage that such testingwould occur on a vulnerable, segregated segment ofthe population. Students used in the experimentshave said repeatedly that they were not informedof the radiation involved in the tests.

Benda: A Profile

The University's refusal to disclose Benda'spapers is not the only thing clouding a fullunderstanding of Harvard's involvement.

Harvard officials say that poor record-keepingfrom four decades ago and the fact that many ofBenda's colleagues have died or moved away are twofactors that have hindered the Universityinvestigation ad any subsequent public disclosure.

The little information that can be gleanedabout Benda--through profiles of the doctor, hispublished experiments and his ownwriting--presents a picture of a concerned,diligent scientist who strived for better care forthe afflicted.

For example, a New York Times article from May6, 1950, recalls that in a speech to the 106thmeeting of the American Psychiatric Association inDetroit, Benda urged that terms such as "mentaldeficiency, idiocy and imbecility" be discardedwhen speaking of the mentally retarded.

Benda told the psychiatric association thatmental deficiency was not stationary and, in fact,could be reversed. He asked that state schools forthe mentally retarded be transformed intopsychiatric hospital-schools to care for and trainchildren.

"Like the child with cerebral palsy who is nowgenerally accepted, the child with mongolism needsthe consideration, love, and understanding thatshould be accorded any afflicted individual,"Benda wrote in a 1969 revision of his 1960 book,Down's Syndrome: Mongolism and ItsManagement.

In his book, Benda called for teachers andphysicians interacting with children with Down'ssyndrome to "understand their particular behaviorpatterns and educational needs."

Benda appears to have severed his ties to theUniversity in 1964--the last time his name appearsin a Medical School faculty directory.

The doctor taught neuropsychiatry at Harvardand a handful of other area medical schools,including Tufts, and at several now-defuncthospitals. He was also an associate professor atClark University in Worcester, Mass.

Benda assisted in holding annual seminars atthe Fernald School beginning in 1935. Fernald,founded in 1847, had a total resident populationslightly less than 2,500 during Benda's timethere.

Hindman's 1959 report says that "Dr. Bendamaintains an out-standing research laboratory atFernald."

"Excellent training is provided for medicalstudents who work with Dr. Benda...to see whatgoes on at a school and a hospital for theretarded," the report says.

Benda was highly respected in the medicalcommunity of his time. He held many officialpositions on national medical boards and was apioneer in the detection and treatment of Down'ssyndrome.

After graduating from medical school in Berlinin 1922, Benda practiced psychiatry in Germanyuntil 1935. He came America in 1936 to become theclinical director of the Wrenthem State School inWrenthem, Mass.

In 1947 he began work at Fernald, where heserved until 1962

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