Panel: U.S. Should Pay Test Subjects

A presidential panel charged with investigating radiation experiments on human subjects will urge the federal government to compensate some of the subjects of those tests and issue a blanket apology to all involved, according to a published report.

In an article in yesterday's editions, The New York Times reported that the President's Commission on Human Radiation Experiments recommends in a draft report that the U.S. government pay some of the unwitting human subjects of the experiments, conducted between 1944 and 1974.

Harvard's link to the commission and its findings are twofold.

First, Harvard scientists conducted several nutrition and diagnostic experiments with radiation on retarded children at Massachusetts state schools during the 1940s and 1950s.

A state investigation completed in May 1994 found that those Harvard researchers, as well as scientists from MIT and elsewhere in Massachusetts, had violated "the fundamental human rights" of their test subjects.


"Harvard and MIT played a role. The researchers were from these institutions," Frederick M. Misilo Jr., chair of the State Task Force to Review Human Subject Research said at the time. "But [compensation] is a question which has to be decided by others."

While the new draft of the commission's report is the first document to make such a direct call for compensation, it remains unclear whether the subjects of the Harvard tests will receive money.

According to the Times, the commission's draftreport urges compensation for those harmed infederal government tests.

But the article did not say whether the reportcalls for compensation for subjects ofUniversity-sponsored experiments.

And while some and Harvard and MIT researchersundoubtedly won approval from the U.S. AtomicEnergy Commission (a predecessor to the U.S.Department of Energy) for use of the radioactiveisotopes in their experiments, that link to thegovernment is still a tangential one.

The second Harvard link to the commission isDr. Mary Ann Stevenson, professor of radiationoncology at the Medical School, who was named tothe panel last spring.

Stevenson was out of town yesterday and couldnot be reached for comment. But her work on thepanel may have been influenced by the local outcryover the revelations in December 1993 and January1994 about radiation experiments on unwittingvictims.

Harvard spokesperson Joe Wrinn said yesterdaythat the could not comment on the Times' storybecause no one at Harvard had seen the draft ofthe commission's report.

"Obviously we wouldn't want to comment on thereport before we've seen a copy of it, and to myknowledge no one here has seen it yet," Wrinnsaid.

In the spring of 1994, then-provost Jerry R.Green commissioned a University committee, chairedby Professor of Medicine Emeritus Walter. H.Abelmann, to conduct an in house review of humansubject research.

The findings of that Harvard panel have not yetbeen made public.

Of course, Harvard may entirely avoidcompensation to the subjects of the radiationexperiments if it is able to claim that it is notresponsible for the actions of researchers whowork off site.

But many documents, including those in the 1994state report, show that University scientists wereusing their Harvard titles in applying forpermission to conduct some of the experiments.

In many of the cases, the doses of radiationreceived by the subjects of the tests weresmall--less than commonly received in X-rays.

But in at least one test conducted by Harvardscientists, the doses of radiation were highenough to draw the sharp condemnation of the statetask force.

Indeed, some members of the panel suggestedthat the subjects of iodine tests likely sufferedhealth problems as a result