Kids were used as ‘guinea pigs’ in clinical trials

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Kids used as ‘guinea pigs’ in clinical trials. Explore the ethical implications and ongoing discussions.

Children in the 1970s and 80s were unwitting participants in a dark world of medical experimentation with infected blood products, a recent BBC investigation has uncovered. Documents obtained by the BBC shed light on a disturbing pattern of unsafe clinical trials conducted on young patients in the UK, where research objectives took precedence over patient welfare.

Lasting for over 15 years and involving hundreds of individuals, these trials resulted in the infection of most participants with hepatitis C and HIV. Many of these children, who suffered from blood clotting disorders, were enrolled in trials without proper consent from their families. Tragically, the majority of these children have since passed away.

During this period, doctors in haemophilia centers across the UK knowingly used contaminated blood products, sourced from high-risk donors such as prisoners and drug addicts in the US. Despite awareness of the risks, these products, particularly Factor VIII, were still widely used due to a shortage of blood products in the UK.

One survivor, Luke O’Shea-Phillips, now 42, recounted his experience of being treated like a “guinea pig” in clinical trials. Luke, who had mild haemophilia, contracted hepatitis C during a trial at the Middlesex Hospital in London when he was just three years old. Documents suggest he was deliberately given infected blood products to enroll him in a clinical trial aimed at studying the transmission of diseases.

Luke’s case is not isolated. Many children, referred to as “virgin haemophiliacs” or “PUPs” (previously untreated patients), were enrolled in trials without proper consent. These trials often involved administering infected blood products at higher concentrations than necessary, without consideration for the potential risks to the participants.

The implications of these trials extend beyond the immediate health consequences. Professor Emma Cave of Durham University highlights the ethical issues surrounding these trials, emphasizing the importance of informed consent and providing the best possible treatment to patients.

Furthermore, the BBC investigation uncovered a disturbing trend of doctors prioritizing their research ambitions over patient welfare. At Treloar’s College in Hampshire, a specialist school for disabled children with a haemophilia unit, extensive clinical trials were conducted on the students without their or their parents’ consent. These trials involved administering infected blood products at higher doses and even placebos, leading to severe health consequences for many of the students.

The stories of individuals like Mark Stewart and his family highlight the devastating impact of these trials. Mark and his family members, who had mild blood clotting disorders, were unknowingly enrolled in trials that exposed them to infected blood products, resulting in hepatitis C and, ultimately, liver cancer.

As the inquiry into the infected blood scandal draws to a close, the survivors and families affected by these unethical trials await answers and justice. The revelations from this investigation underscore the need for greater accountability and oversight in medical research to ensure that patient welfare is always prioritized. Only by acknowledging and learning from past mistakes can we prevent such tragedies from happening again in the future.

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Source: BBC news


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