Ethical Dilemmas at Willowbrook Mental Institution

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Willowbrook State School was an institution for children with mental retardation located in the Willowbrook neighborhood of Staten Island in New York City from the 1930s until 1987. Originally this school was designated to house 4,000 mentally retarded; however by 1965 it had a population of a little over 6,000. This large number of occupants named this the largest state-run institution for the mentally handicapped in the United States. (Bursztyn, 2006) After Kennedy took a tour of the institution he stated there were “questionable medical practices, and experiments” thus labeling this institution a “snake pit” and proclaimed that individuals in the overcrowded facility were "living in filth and dirt, their clothing in rags, in rooms less comfortable and cheerful than the cages in which we put animals in a zoo" and offered a series of recommendations for improving conditions. (New York Times, 1965) Through the first ten years of operation outbreaks of hepatitis were common at the institution.This led to a controversial medical study carried out between 1963 and 1966 by medical researchers Saul Krugman and Robert W. McCollum. Healthy children were intentionally inoculated, orally and by injection, with the virus that causes the disease, and then monitored to gauge the effects of gamma globulin in combating it. (New York Times, 2010). Some of the early subjects were said to have been fed extracts of stools from infected individuals and later subjects received injections of more purified virus preparations. The actual study involved more than 700 children at Willowbrook. The experimental group included children already at Willowbrook who were injected with protective antibodies. The control group did not receive the injection. Krugman then observed the degrees of immunity to hepatitis in both groups. In a second study, researchers injected newly admitted children with protective antibodies. Some of these students were deliberately infected with a Willowbrook...
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