Four decades after leaving the Bessborough Maternity and Baby Home in Cork, Ireland, Mari Steed made a terrible discovery. As a child, she was part of what she described as “highly unethical” vaccine study.
From the age of 5 months, Steed was vaccinated at least three times with an experimental shot to prevent diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus and polio. This revealed her medical record, which she shared with NBC News. Steed, 60, later learned that the vaccine had been given without the knowledge of her birth mother, with whom she lived in Bessborough for the first 18 months of her life.
At least dozens of other children in maternity and baby homes – the since-closed, church-run facilities in Ireland for unmarried women and their children – were reportedly part of such trials during the same period. Like steed, others who reunited with their birth mothers learned that their parents had not given their consent for their participation either.
“Scientifically, I understand that there is no more perfect research group than a group of trapped children. But that requires huge ethical protocols, and it just wasn’t followed, ”said Steed, who was adopted by an American family from Bessborough. “Whether it was out of sheer ignorance or” We don’t shit what happens to these kids “- that part still makes me angry.”
On Tuesday, the Irish Commission of Inquiry into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters is due to release a long-awaited report of various abuses in the home. The report is expected Include details of vaccine trials that are being shared for the first time with survivors, their families, and the public.
After the discovery of an unmarked mass grave in 2014, the houses were the subject of a year-long investigation Another Irish mother and baby home in Tuam, County Galway, where nearly 800 children died from 1925 to 1961.
Six interim reports from the Commission were published. In these cases, the commission concluded that many of the children died of malnutrition and other preventable diseases. sometimes their bodies were cleverly at universities for anatomical studies.
The final report, especially all the details about the vaccine experiments, was “long overdue,” said Steed, who now lives in Ruther Glen, Virginia and works in a day spa after a career in banks and universities. She has made it her life’s work to shed light on the inhumane practices that unmarried Irish women and their children suffer.
Steed hopes anyone alive who was involved in the vaccine study, including researchers, pharmaceutical workers or the nuns who led Bessborough, will be held accountable.
Her overriding offense, she said, was treating the residents of the houses as “less than the rest of society” – which has left many survivors like her with permanent emotional scars.
“In Ireland it was only considered acceptable at the time,” said Steed. “If you were an unmarried woman or a child who was the result of an illegitimate relationship, you were” different “because the Church taught people to do so.”
The vaccine she received was made by Burroughs Wellcome, a pharmaceutical company that later merged with GlaxoSmithKline. Steed confirmed by making a Freedom of Information request to GlaxoSmithKline in 2011 that she had received the shot; She shared the confirmation she received with NBC News.
A nation faces its shameful past
Steed found out she was at the trial when she started looking for her medical records in the 1990s.
Records show that she received her last shot just before she was sent to her adoptive family in Philadelphia in late 1961. Little did the family know that they participated in the vaccination study, she said.
Declining to comment on individual records, GlaxoSmithKline declined to comment on the investigation prior to the report’s release, but said in a statement to NBC News that it “worked fully with the commission and provided copies of relevant documents from their historical archives ” have.
Sisters of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, the Roman Catholic order that led the Bessborough mother and baby home, said they also worked with the commission to share information. They declined to comment on the individual allegations.
Regarding the vaccine study, the sisters said in an email to NBC News that they “had no information to support the allegation made in your request.”
Steed doesn’t think she suffered any physical effects from the process she went through. In 2014, a doctor oversaw studies in maternity and baby homes asserts that the vaccines did not harm any affected children; NBC News was unable to confirm this claim.
The allegations about the houses run by nuns caused deep shame for a country full of Catholicism. While the Commission does not have the power to provide financial compensation to victims or their families, many hope that the Irish government will take action.
“The government’s first step must be to give individuals unrestricted access to their own information,” said Maeve O’Rourke, lecturer in human rights at the National University of Ireland at Galway and co-director of the Clann Project, a pro Bono initiative that gathered evidence for the commission and stood up for the mothers and their children.
“People have the right to the truth – the right to know who they are, what happened to them, what became of their missing relatives. This is the very basic requirement that the government must meet before any other form of reparation can have any meaning or righteousness, ”she said.
The Commission has focused on the story of 14 maternity and baby homes and four county homes in Ireland from 1922 to 1998. All closed prior to the start of the investigation.
Steed said she feels like a “guinea pig” and is angry that her birth mother, Josephine Bassett, was never told about the trial.
Bassett gave birth at the age of 26. When Steed was reunited with Bassett in 2002, Bassett told her she felt compelled to choose adoption – but asked the nuns to send their little girl to an American family so that Steed was less likely to come to the fringes of Irish society like she. Steed and Bassett were closely related until Bassett’s death in 2013.
It is unclear whether any of the Commission’s interim reports led to indictments. Steed hopes the final report will be released on Tuesday.
“If there are living people who can be held accountable for crimes, I hope that they will be properly prosecuted and punished and that they cannot get away with being nuns, priests or members of the government,” she said.