Tuesday, March 19, 2013

When doctors were abusers

Movie poster for "Willowbrook"
From the depths of Willowbrook State School, the "mother" of de-institutionalization, comes a new horror story.

"Willowbrook", a fictionalized film based on true events, describes abuse that doctors inflicted on mentally disabled residents of that institution. It was screened last week in New York at the ReelAbilities Film Festival

The trailer was horrific enough for me - I doubt I could sit through the entire 16-minute film. 

I'm sure those of you who, like me, missed it, will find this review [here] by Dr. Barron H. Lerner and the comments it spawned enlightening. It seems the Willowbrook medical researchers hoped their Mengelian abuse - the injection of active hepatitis virus into healthy children with mental disabilities - would provide deeper knowledge of the illness and  a vaccine.
Lerner reminds us of some other well-known Willowbrook horrors:  
The situation was abominable, with children lining the corridors, many unclothed and lying in their own excrement. It is little wonder that then-Senator Robert F. Kennedy called Willowbrook a “snake pit” after a 1965 tour. An exposé of the brutal conditions by a young television reporter named Geraldo Rivera in 1972 led to government inquiries and the eventual closing of the institution — but not for another 15 years.
I was surprised that Lerner assessed the "experiment" primarily from a medical ethics perspective. For instance, he wrote 
Although Dr. Krugman and others defended what had occurred, most ethicists see Willowbrook as an example of medicine run amok, in which overzealous researchers did harm to an exceptionally vulnerable population.
I'd say, though, that this "cautionary tale", as the review aptly dubbed it, alerts us most to the general plight of citizens with disabilities i.e. our children.

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