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EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH

Ex-Inmates Sue
Penn and Kligman over Research

 

A group of nearly 300 former prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia has filed a civil suit against the University and Dr. Albert M. Kligman Gr’42 M’47 Int’51, emeritus professor of dermatology, for carrying out experiments on them between 1961 and 1974. The suit, filed in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas in October, accuses Kligman and Penn of “negligence, carelessness, and recklessness” in “allowing infectious diseases, radioactive isotopes, dioxin, and psychotropic drugs” to be tested on the former prisoners “without their knowledge.” The prisoners also named the City of Philadelphia, Dow Chemical Company, the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical firm, and Kligman’s Ivy Research Laboratories in their suit.
   
Some of the experiments led to the development of the anti-wrinkle cream Retin-A, from which both Kligman and the University have benefited financially. (The University itself sued Kligman and Johnson & Johnson, and in 1992 won a percentage of the profits from Retin-A.) The ex-inmates’ suit seeks in excess of $50,000 in damages for each charge.
   
Although the prisoners were paid to participate in the experiments—some of which may have caused lasting physical and/or psychological injuries—the suit argues that they were both “grossly” underpaid and under-informed about the potential dangers. It also states that the experiments were poorly supervised and controlled, and that both Penn and Kligman failed to exercise “responsible care, caution, diligence, and prudence” in allowing the prisoners to be “tested with toxic chemicals and medications in doses beyond scientifically acceptable standards.”
   
“We think these individuals are entitled to an apology by the parties, including the University, the city and Kligman, who made a lot of money literally from the backs of these individuals,” said Thomas M. Nocella, an attorney representing the former prisoners. “We’re also looking for some compensation, and a guarantee of future medical treatment for these men and women.” He said the experiments showed a “repeated pattern of human-rights violations.”
   
In a statement, the University noted that “during the 1950s and 1960s, the use of willing, compensated prisoners for biomedical research was a commonly accepted practice by this nation’s scientists—most of whom were associated with major universities or the federal government. It is now understood and agreed throughout the global scientific community that prisoners—regardless of their consent to participate and/or receipt of monies for same—cannot be considered appropriate candidates for any biomedical studies.”
   
Today, the statement added, “the scientific community—including the University of Pennsylvania—operates within a system of strict rules and regulations concerning the use of human subjects in research. As part of the current framework governing such university-based research, formally established bodies known as Institutional Review Boards—which consist of scientists, ethicists, and members of the local community—review all proposed research involving human subjects for compliance with an array of ethical and other considerations.”
   
“Their institution has a legacy, and this legacy carries on even into today,” responded Nocella, “and they’re morally obligated to answer to wrongs that institutions did even a long time ago. They can’t use the excuse of the passage of time. It was wrong then and it’s wrong now. The Nuremberg Code was in existence for 20 years before they started doing this. The moral and ethical ideas were out there. It’s a matter of basic human rights and humanity towards other human beings.”
   
Nocella also noted that “a lot of testing was done without prior testing on lab animals, so in effect, these people were guinea pigs.”
   
On November 2, some of the former inmates demonstrated at a lecture that Kligman was giving at the Biomedical Research Building II. Some carried signs calling Penn the “Frankenstein of medical research” and asking why it had honored Kligman by choosing him as a speaker.
   
The experiments were documented in a 1998 book titled Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison: A true story of abuse and exploitation in the name of medical science, by Allen M. Hornblum, an instructor of geography and urban studies at Temple University.


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