Canada used indigenous children to “study” malnutrition

Yet another depressing story of how, in the name of “science”, the “establishment” made use of less “worthy” populations to carry out medical experiments.

This time in Canada from 1942 -1952.

There was no difference of principle and only one of degree between the medical experiments carried out in Nazi Germany and those carried out on native or disadvantaged populations in Australia, Canada, and the USA (among many other countries).

We may like to think that it does not happen any more. I am not so sure. The real story of Haiti and its cholera and the use of cheap, untested vaccines is yet to be told Similarly, some of the stories about the intentional “creation” of new strains of influenza and the subsequent discovery and dissemination of new vaccines for their cure may never ever become public.

Mosby, I. Social History 46, 145–172 (2013). Administering Colonial Science: Nutrition Research and Human Biomedical Experimentation in Aboriginal Communities and Residential Schools, 1942–1952

Abstract: Between 1942 and 1952, some of Canada’s leading nutrition experts, in cooperation with various federal departments, conducted an unprecedented series of nutritional studies of Aboriginal communities and residential schools. The most ambitious and perhaps best known of these was the 1947–1948 James Bay Survey of the Attawapiskat and Rupert’s House Cree First Nations. Less well known were two separate long-term studies that went so far as to include controlled experiments conducted, apparently without the subjects’ informed consent or knowledge, on malnourished Aboriginal populations in Northern Manitoba and, later, in six Indian residential schools. This article explores these studies and experiments, in part to provide a narrative record of a largely unexamined episode of exploitation and neglect by the Canadian government. At the same time, it situates these studies within the context of broader federal policies governing the lives of Aboriginal peoples, a shifting Canadian consensus concerning the science of nutrition, and changing attitudes towards the ethics of biomedical experimentation on human beings during a period that encompassed, among other things, the establishment of the Nuremberg Code of experimental research ethics.

Nature also reports:

Canadian government scientists used malnourished native populations as unwitting subjects in experiments conducted in the 1940s and 1950s to test nutritional interventions. The tests, many of which involved children at state-funded residential schools, had been largely forgotten until they were described earlier this month in the journal Social History by Ian Mosby, who studies the history of food and nutrition at the University of Guelph in Canada.

The work began in 1942, when government scientists visited several native communities in northern Manitoba and discovered widespread hunger and malnutrition. “Their immediate response was to study the problem by testing nutritional supplements,” says Mosby. From a group of 300 malnourished people selected for the tests, 125 were given vitamin supplements, and the rest served as ‘untreated’ controls. ….

Nancy Walton, a medical ethicist at Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, and former chairwoman of the university’s research-ethics board, says that such a project would never be allowed today, “but in the context of that time, it’s unfortunately not surprising”. Awareness of the need for informed consent in human studies was growing — informed consent was a central tenet of the Nuremberg Code, developed in the late 1940s — but the idea had not yet been adopted around the world.

“It’s not just bad ethics, it’s bad science,” Walton says of the Canadian government research. “They didn’t appear to try and prove or disprove any hypothesis that I can see, or make any statistical correlations.”

Indeed, says Mosby, very little of value came out of the research. He found no evidence that the northern Manitoba study was completed or published. The school experiments were presented at conferences and published, but they led to no important advances in nutritional science or improvements in conditions at the schools. “They mostly just confirmed what they already knew,” Mosby says. ….


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