Sterilization/drug experiments on Blackfoot and other children

Craven, Jim jcraven at clark.edu
Mon Mar 10 09:06:25 MST 2003






Alberta sterilization victims also used as guinea pigs Revelation comes as
40 victims win $4M settlement
                Marina Jimenez  National Post
                10/28/98

As many as 100 of the children at the centre of the Alberta sterilization
scandal of the late 1960s and early 1970s were also used as guinea pigs in
drug trials, the National Post has learned. The children lived at the
Provincial Training School in Red Deer. Some were wards of the province and
others were placed in the school by their parents, who did not consent to
the sterilization or medical experimentation, which included the
administration of powerful steroids and anti-psychotic drugs. Experts say
one of the drugs used, the anabolic steroid norbolethone, is illegal today.
The anti-psychotic tranquilizer haloperidol was also used. Its effect on
children is said to be akin to hitting them over the head with a sledge
hammer.

Yesterday, 40 people who were sterilized against their will reached a
settlement totalling $4-million with the government of Alberta. This brings
to 540 the number of people who have settled with the province for being
sterilized under the now-defunct Alberta Sterilization Act, which was in
effect from 1928 to 1972. The operations were ordered by Alberta's eugenics
board to prevent the mentally disabled from passing on their defects to
offspring. Lawyers say they want more money from the government for victims
who had to endure being tested with powerful drugs in addition to being
sterilized. "Invading people's rights in the form of unauthorized research
and taking advantage of people who couldn't look after themselves is the
kind of thing that courts award punitive damages for," said Jon Faulds, an
Edmonton lawyer representing 109 sterilization victims still negotiating
settlements.

Allan Garber, another Edmonton lawyer acting for the former training school
residents, said they were treated like cattle. "The experimental drug
treatment only compounds the evil that was done to our clients."  Dr.
Leonard J. LeVann, medical superintendent from 1949 to 1974 at the Red Deer
school, published the results of his drug experiments in scholarly journals,
which were recently turned over to lawyers for the victims.  The articles
show that Dr. LeVann, who is dead, gave 100 undersized children the anabolic
steroid norbolethone over a 12-month period in 1971. The drug -- now illegal
in Canada -- made the children gain weight. But it also produced some side
effects: the genitals of two boys increased in size and one girl's voice
deepened."The treatment of retarded growth in children with anabolic agents
is controversial," he wrote in the September 1971 edition of the
International Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, Therapy and Toxicology.
Nonetheless, he called the drug study "entirely satisfactory."

Norbolethone is illegal today because of its powerful side effects - damage
to the liver and negative psychological symptoms. Anabolic steroids can also
increase aggressive sexual behaviour in men and cause secondary sexual
characteristics, for example, facial hair in girls. Dr. LeVann also gave 100
children haloperidol, an anti-psychotic tranquilizer, over a period of 40
days in the late 1960s to counter hyperactivity and excitability. Dr. Louis
Pagliaro, a professor of educational psychology and the associate director
of the substance abusology research unit at the University of Alberta, says
haloperidol "would essentially knock(children) out. (It) generally decreases
people's ability to learn and adversely affects memory and behaviour." Dr.
LeVann's studies are "full of half-truths, assumptions and by today's
standards, lack proper research methodology," says Dr. Pagliaro.

About 2,800 people were sterilized in Alberta before the Sexual
Sterilization Act was finally repealed. Documents now show that many of the
people sterilized were not mentally disabled. In 1996, the Alberta Court of
Queen's Bench ordered the provincial government to pay Leilani Muirer
$740,000 for being wrongfully confined in the Red Deer school and
sterilized. Her landmark victory opened a floodgate of litigation. In June,
1998, the government agreed to pay 500 more sterilization claimants up to
$100,000. Many continue to live in the Red Deer facility, known today as the
Michener Centre. The  province has spent $54 million on settlements to date.
The compensation deal for the sterilizaiton victims announced yesterday,
much the same as those announced last June, gives claimants $75,000 now and
another $25,000 after three years, if they are then living outside
institutions.



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