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Ms. Lisa Jones Case

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Willowbrook State Hospital, an institution for mentally retarded children on Staten Island, experienced a large number of infectious diseases among its patients. Conditions at the hospital were not good, and most children suffered from hepatitis, measles, and parasitic and respiratory infections. Hepatitis, in particular, was a problem, since many of the children were not toilet-trained and the disease was spread

through an oral-intestinal route. Researchers determined that nearly all susceptible children became infected with hepatitis during their first year at the hospital.

Between the years 1956 and 1970, 10,000 children were admitted to Willowbrook Hospital. Of those children, almost 800 were entered into a research project to gain information about the disease with the hopes of eventually developing an immunization against the disease. All the parents of the children in the research project granted written consent. The children were injected with the same strain of hepatitis

that was already prevalent at the hospital.

The physician-researchers in charge of the project received intense criticism for subjecting the children to this research. The researchers defended their actions by stating that

a. the children that were used as subjects were unharmed or, at least, not made any more ill than they already were;

b. the children may have even benefited, since they were placed on an isolated unit and thus were not exposed to other infectious diseases;

c. the children in the study may have had a subclinical infection, which would render them immune to the hepatitis virus;

d. the children may have been better off as a result of the research, since the study added to the growth of information about the disease;

e. all the parents had given their informed consent.

The medical community was outraged about the experiment and raised the following objections:

a. mentally retarded persons, especially children, should not be used for research experimentation;

b. the children are unable to defend or speak for themselves;

c. there is a greater possibility of abuse with children than with adults;

d. the parents may have been coerced to grant consent, since the hospital was full and there was only space to admit children into the hepatitis unit;

e. the experiment did not appear to be therapeutic;

f. the benefits to the hospital and the community at large were minimal;

g. the experiments were designed to confirm existing studies

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