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Former 'Guinea Pigs' Protest

Fifty former Pennsylvania state prisoners protested outside the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania on a cold December morning in 1998 to draw attention to the pain and suffering they say resulted from medical experiments performed on them in Holmesburg prison

"We are the experimentation survivors," Leodus Jones shouted through a bullhorn to a sizeable crowd of onlookers and ex-prisoners carrying signs and placards.

Doctors working with the university and Holmesburg prison officials conducted medical experiments on thousands of prisoners from 1951 to 1974. The sordid history of these experiments was recently brought to light after the publication of Allen Hornblum's book, Acres of Skin [See review on page 6].

According to Hornblum's book, the experiments included collecting and preserving skin for medical studies as well as the use of mind-altering drugs and dioxin on prisoners who were not fully informed of the risks.

"These tests were unfair; they were barbaric," said Jones, who was among those subjected to experiments at Holmesberg prison in the 1960s. "We were lied to; we were used and exploited. We were human guinea pigs."

The survivors of the Holmesburg experiments are seeking free follow-up medical treatment, compensation for pain and suffering, and money for rehabilitation programs.

Richard Tannen, senior vice dean in charge of research and academics at the university's School of Medicine told reporters that the hospital will provide free "medical evaluations" but he could not guarantee free treatment. He also said the university would not pay for medical evaluations or treatment performed elsewhere.

Two politicians spoke at the protest rally. Philadelphia City Councilman David Cohen said he expected to introduce a resolution calling on the university to provide reparations. State Rep. Harold James (D., Phila.) said he was pursuing investigative hearings on the matter in the state capital.

Philadelphia Inquirer

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