Thursday, July 11, 2013

More about Fernald

Inside the Walter E. Fernald State School in Waltham MA
In an earlier post ("An unexpected turning of the tables"), I mentioned the Massachusetts institution, the Walter E. Fernald State School.

A court dispute between the families of its thirteen remaining residents and the State had been reported (see it here). My post, like that article, glossed over the decades of suffering endured by those residents at Fernald, the very institution that their relatives are now fighting to keep  in operation.

The abuse and neglect inflicted on those victims and on many others with disabilities deserves more of our attention  - and our fury. Now they will be accorded their due. “Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America" is a new book about that horrific chapter in disability history. 

Like residents at the infamous institution Willowbrook who were infected with Hepatitis in pursuit of medical research (referenced in earlier blog posting of mine:  "When doctors were abusers"), Fernald residents were also experimented on by medical  doctors who were blind to the evil of their actions.

But Fernald's esteemed professionals - all with impeccable academic  credentials - were even more barbaric: For nearly 20 years residents "were unknowingly fed a steady diet of radioactive isotopes, subjected to regular blood draws, and placed in solitary confinement if they refused to cooperate."

The book reveals that, buttressed by eugenics, a movement popular in the early twentieth century, such experimentation on society's most vulnerable was widely practiced throughout the United States.
"Often reading like case studies straight out of the 1947 Nazi doctors’ trial, these include the forced castration of dozens of boys to prevent or halt regular masturbation; infecting developmentally delayed children as young as 4 with gonorrhea; and treating children as young as 6 who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia or autism with twice-daily doses of LSD for months on end."
The book reviewer, Dr. Dennis Rosen, a pediatric pulmonologist, concludes that this is "an issue that sadly appears perennial."

I couldn't agree more.

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