I dedicate this to the memory of David Redwolf of Seneca First Nation...
Canadians ought to be rightly ashamed of their history this week. We find out that human experimentation was carried out on children in the ‘40s and ‘50s in this country, when we bill ourselves as the ‘nice’ country today. That mythos should surely now be laid to rest for all time. To think that along with enforced sterilizations in Alberta, up until the 1960s depending on which source you trust, we also had ‘starvation’ experiments run on native children who had no rights whatsoever should leave us questioning our ‘Canadian’ humanity.
Yet on Thursday of this week, I watched the morning news from about 6:30 am. The channel I watched said nothing about this tragedy; not one word. There was an article about it on CTV news the previous evening [July 17, 2013] and I think there was a piece at the 6 pm news, but for my media, that was it. There were outraged newspaper articles, but I didn’t get a chance to see Wednesday’s paper. On Thursday, however, the Toronto Star ran a front-page piece “Thank them for what they’ve done to us all”, by Andrew Livingstone.
Remember, these were ‘scientific’ experiments carried out on human beings. By other ‘human beings.’ Someone decided that chronic malnutrition would be a good way to go to understand human physiology, so ‘throwaway’ children – First Nations children: human beings – were chosen as the subjects. They were a captive population in the truest sense of the word. In one statement in Livinstone’s article, “...experts say that the experiments are rooted in a governments’ desire to replace the traditional way of life for a modern one.” [A18] Unfortunately that modern life was based in something akin to Auschwitz...
I am ashamed to call myself Canadian right now. I think that there should be a reckoning about this issue, among many others, but this particularly bothers me. I am a person with a disability as well as a history: I was born premature and have faced substandard medical care. Yet I did not face what these children did.
In another statement drawn from Livingstone’s article, Jim Miller, of the University of Saskatchewan is cited as saying “The medical community did not have a well-developed understanding or procedure for securing informed consent prior to treatment or tests...” [A18] Remember, these were children who were experimented on without their knowledge or consent, away from their families and warehoused, according to the article. I can tell you from my medical experience in September 2012 that some in the medical community also do not know about basic care or informed consent.
And this is the same nation wherein a small group of people want to give medical professionals the legal right to end life ‘in the name of relief of suffering’ through euthanasia in Quebec! We have not learned our lessons of history: we do not have the ethical development, if these sorts of boxes of horror are stored in our historical attic. Furthermore, the research was done “...to protect Canada’s emerging reputation on the international stage for being a modern, humanitarian nation.” [A18] There is a public faced reputation and then there is what happens out of sight out of mind.
This out of sight historical event is our nation’s shame. This must not be repeated, and any hint that we are dealing unethically with vulnerable people must stop. Call me old-fashioned and idealist, but certainly we do not have to remain silent in the face of this horrible revelation. The article continues with talking-head quotes, but really, does not do this issue justice – if words could. Remember, there is a movement afoot to make medically provided death legal in this nation. Disability rights groups are against it, citing just the sorts of risks to their community as happened to the aboriginal/First Nations community in the 1940s and 50s.
Let’s not call ourselves civilized, shall we? Let’s find accountability here and ensure that ‘safeguards’ are in place to make certain that this does not happen again. We ought to be angry and sad about this new found revelation in Canada’s history. We ought not to call ourselves ‘nice’ anymore. This recent revelation is another small indicator of a much larger Canadian cultural problem, one which has grown up over the years; something must be done!