Saturday, April 23, 2005

What Fresh Hell

There are few common values across cultures and civilizations, but taking care of the children seems to be one of them. They, of course, represent the future, the continuation of the culture, and as bearers of the future, they should be protected and given every opportunity to grow and thrive within their community. I don't think this is a particularly nuanced observation, or even a particularly radical concept. Cultures take care of their kids, or at least should.

Shockingly, this is apparently not the case in this country. In New York City, the agency that's supposed to take care of children when their families can't or won't has apparently allowed them to be used in drug trials.

A British documentary apparently tells this appalling story.

A new BBC documentary exposes how the city of New York has been forcing HIV positive children under its supervision to be used as human guinea pigs in tests for experimental AIDS drug trials. All of the children in the program were under the legal guidance of the city's child welfare department, the Administration for Children's Services. Most live in foster care or independent homes run on behalf of the local authorities and almost all the children are believed to be African-American or Latino.

In the documentary, parents or guardians who refused to consent to the trials claim that children were removed by ACS and placed in foster families or children's homes. Then, acting over their objections, ACS authorized the drug trials.

I would have thought that the shameful episode of the Tuskegee "medical study" and the horrific results would have cured us of this kind of "science," but clearly I would have been wrong. It's interesting that just like the African-American men who were used in Tuskegee, this set of clinical participants are apparently all children of color.

Remember, these are children, and they are children who are HIV positive. There are already drugs that would help them stave off the ravages of that disease. Instead, they get to be the lab rats for one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies anxious to see if a new drug, one that will hold a patent for many years, ensuring its expensiveness, will do any good. If it doesn't (and apparently we don't know what kind of follow-up has been done), well, too bad.

Someone said once that a nation should be judged on how it treated the weakest and most defenseless of its citizens. I don't think we will be judged too mercifully in this matter, nor should we.

The Administration for Children's Services in New York City should be ashamed. We all should be.


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