While aboriginal children died of tuberculosis in the 1930s and 1940s, Canadian health officials tried out experimental vaccines on infants rather than ameliorate the conditions of poverty that sparked that and a host of other illnesses.
These revelations, while not new, have re-emerged in the wake of the discovery that nutritional experiments were conducted on First Nations children in the 1940s.As with the nutritional experiments, the TB vaccine research capitalized on the poverty of its subjects to conduct studies rather than address the underlying factors leading to the high incidence of the lung infection, says a report by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN).
“It is pretty depressing. It is just document after document. They treated these people like they were not even human,” said Maureen Lux, a professor at Brock University who is writing a book about the treatment of indigenous people in TB sanitoriums, in an interview with the network. “It is definitely the hardest thing I have ever done.”
In the interview posted by APTN on July 24, Lux discussed the findings she had first published in a 1998 paper on the vaccine trials, which she is expanding into the book due out next year.
“Historians have been reluctant to question medical care because we are enthralled with the power of medicine,” she told APTN. “Once I started looking at what was going and how they were operated and in whose interest, it becomes a fairly dark story.”
In studying aboriginal people and the medical system, Lux examined reserve conditions in southern Saskatchewan, in the Qu’Appelle region, during the early 20th century.
In expanding her paper on the treatment of indigenous people in sanatoriums, she found that a federal program that ran from 1930 to 1932 had cut the tuberculosis rate in half by improving housing conditions, drilling wells to access better-quality water, and enhancing nutrition for children and pregnant women. Lux’s paper, “Perfect Subjects: Race Tuberculosis and the Qu’Appelle BCG Vaccine Trial,” detailed these findings, as well as the fact that the government had chosen to ignore this solution and seek the cheaper method of simply vaccinating babies against the disease, APTN reported.
“The general death rate and the infant mortality rate both also fell. Thus, before the BCG vaccine trials were begun, the tuberculosis death rate had been reduced by half by marginal improvements in living conditions, and especially by segregating those with active tuberculosis,” wrote Lux, according to APTN.
Although the vaccine ultimately was proven to work—and is still in use today—children died of gastroenteritis and pneumonia during the study period, Lux wrote. Although some medical professionals expressed misgivings about the ethics of such studies, they continued.“Between October 1933 and 1945, a total of 609 infants were involved in the tests—half given the vaccine, half not,” the Canadian Press reported. “Results were clear: nearly five times as many cases of TB among the non-vaccinated children. But the real lesson from the tests was the connection between dire living conditions and overall health.”
The report went on to elaborate.
“Of the 609 children in the tests, 77 were dead before their first birthday, only four of them from TB,” the Canadian Press wrote. “Both vaccinated and unvaccinated groups had at least twice the non-tuberculosis death rate as the general population.”
This would seem especially cruel in light of the TB scourge that persists today, especially in Inuit communities.But the experiments didn’t stop there, Lux told APTN. The TB antibiotic streptomycin was administered to First Nations patients in other trials at Charles Camsell hospital in Edmonton, which has since closed down. In addition, Lux told APTN, doctors surgically removed TB from indigenous patients up until the 1950s and 1960s, long after the practice had been discontinued in the non-indigenous population.
“Do we interpret that surgeons and medical directors thought they were doing right and never questioning the assumption that these people were going to actually spread TB when they actually weren’t?” Lux told APTN. “They could do it and they did it and that is as shocking as any kind of experiment.”Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/07/28/lab-rats-guinea-pigs-canadians-experimented-aboriginal-infants-tuberculosis-vaccine
Even as brave soldiers, some of them aboriginal, fought to defeat the Nazis and their notion of a master race during WW2, Canadian health authorities back on the home front were busy using aboriginal kids as nutritional guinea pigs.
“It was experiments being conducted on malnourished aboriginal people,” food historian Ian Mosby revealed in an interview with CBC’s As It Happens radio show on Tuesday July 16. “It started with research trips in northern Manitoba where they found, you know, widespread hunger, if not starvation, among certain members of the community. And one of their immediate responses was to design a controlled experiment on the effectiveness of vitamin supplementation on this population.”
As the U.S. absorbs revelations of forced sterilization among female inmates in California, the news from up north is resonating across Canada.Mosby, who is earning his PhD in history at the University of Guelph, said the research—which occurred without the subjects’ knowledge—was undertaken in residential schools and remote aboriginal communities in Manitoba during and just after World War II. He also uncovered plans for similar research in residential schools in British Columbia, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Alberta. About 1,300 aboriginal children were used in the experiments, the Canadian Press reported.
The experiments were conducted beginning in 1942, when authorities visiting remote northern communities in Manitoba found widespread malnutrition. Rather than assist them, the authorities decided to conduct vitamin research, Mosby said.
Mosby told the Canadian Press that he was not looking for anything like this. He was merely researching health policy. But something struck him as strange, he said.
“I started to find vague references to studies conducted on ‘Indians’ that piqued my interest and seemed potentially problematic, to say the least,” he said to the Canadian Press. “I went on a search to find out what was going on.”
What he found disturbed him greatly. “It’s an emotionally difficult topic to study,” he said.
According to the Canadian Press account, 300 children in Norway House Cree were the first subjects, with 125 receiving vitamin supplements and the rest left to their bodies’ own devices. Even those receiving the supplements were not getting all they needed, Mosby wrote, because people were not getting enough food—they were living on fewer than 1,500 calories daily rather than the adult need of 2,000.
“The research team was well aware that these vitamin supplements only addressed a small part of the problem,” Mosby wrote, according to the Canadian Press. “The experiment seems to have been driven, at least in part, by the nutrition experts’ desire to test their theories on a ready-made ‘laboratory’ populated with already malnourished human experimental subjects.”
This did not stop the research from spreading, with plans developed in 1947 to conduct similar experiments on 1,000 children in six residential schools in Port Alberni, British Columbia, Kenora, Ontario, Schubenacadie, Nova Scotia and Lethbridge, Alberta, the Canadian Press reported.
The Canadian government seemed caught off-guard by the revelations.
“If this is story is true, this is abhorrent and completely unacceptable,” said a spokesperson for Bernard Valcourt, the minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, via e-mail late Tuesday to the Canadian Press. “When Prime Minister [Stephen] Harper made a historic apology to former students of Indian Residential Schools in 2008 on behalf of all Canadians, he recognized that this period had caused great harm and had no place in Canada. Our Government remains committed to a fair and lasting resolution to the legacy of the Indian Residential Schools.”
This year marks the fifth anniversary of the June 8, 2008 official apology delivered to residential school survivors by Harper on behalf of the Canadian government. During the 150-year-long residential schools era, 150,000 aboriginal students were ripped from their families, virtually interred in mostly church-run boarding schools far from home, and forbidden to use their language and culture.
First Nations advocates are already calling for government action. Wab Kinew, who is the director of indigenous inclusion at the University of Winnipeg, said the federal government should turn all that research over to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is compiling a history of the residential school era, which ended in the 1990s.
“This is a reminder of a disgusting period in both Canadian and scientific history when indigenous people and other non-whites were regarded as inferior,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press. “The end goal of course is to make sure things like this never happen again.”Read more at https://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2013/07/17/canadian-govt-watched-kids-starve-lab-rats-science-150464