‘Not Even Human’ How Canadian Govt. Abused Aboriginal Children in TB Experiments


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

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