Stolen Generations experiments: Australia’s Tuskegee?


[image source: Turing Foundation] Aboriginal children ‘injected with leprosy’

Allegations have arisen that Aboriginal children from the Stolen Generation may have been infected with leprosy or injected with experimental medication while institutionalised. The issue was raised during a Senate inquiry into a Stolen Generation Compensation Bill.

On the first day of hearings in Darwin today, Kathleen Mills from the Stolen Generations Alliance said the public did not know the full extent of what happened to some children. And efforts to obtain records that support the claims, such as that children were injected with serums to gauge their reaction to the medication, had been hampered, she said.

“These are the things that have not been spoken about,” Ms Mills told the inquiry. “As well as being taken away, they were used … there are a lot of things that Australia does not know about.”

Outside the inquiry, Ms Mills said her uncle had been a medical orderly at the Kahlin Compound in Darwin. She said he told her that children were used as “guinea pigs” for leprosy treatments.

“He said it made our people very, very ill … the treatment almost killed them,” she said. “It was a common experience and a common practice … People are very inhibited to speak about their experience and it is not a nice subject … I don’t want them to be shamed.”

Who knows what the inquiry will discover, whether any records exist to confirm or refute the allegations. Here’s the thing, though: no one with any knowledge of Australian history is likely to be surprised. Shocked, yes, ashamed, yes, outraged, yes; but not surprised.

Because there is a history of the white male medical establishment using people of colour, and women, as experimental subjects without their consent, even to the point of killing them. We[1] like to pretend that the Nazis were the only ones, and conveniently Other them, and fool ourselves that, oh, we would never have done a thing like that, not us. Read a little about the Tuskegee experiment, where African American people were deliberately lied to, left to spread, and left to die from syphilis, despite treatment being readily available. Read about the Cartwright Inquiry into the New Zealand cervical cancer experiments by Herb Green. Green found major abnormalities on women’s Pap smears, and merely watched to see what would happen – because he personally chose to believe that abnormal Pap smears were unrelated to cancer. This isn’t ancient history; Herb Green went on killing women into the 1980s.

So no one will be surprised.

And that is horrifying.

[1] When I say “we”, I’m speaking as an educational product of the white male medical establishment

Categories: ethics & philosophy, gender & feminism, indigenous, medicine, social justice

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3 replies

  1. So no one will be surprised.
    And that is horrifying.

    I’d probably be more surprised if it turns out not to have happened, frankly.

  2. Possibly more similar to this experiment, and this one.
    Helen’s last blog post..Babysitter?

  3. Hi, Im from Melbourne.
    That sort of experimentation on the poor was par for the course in America, and probably other parts of the Western world.

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