This article was published in the New York Amsterdam News on Saturday, November
12, 1998.

Our Children - Whose Guinea Pigs?
By: Herb Boyd

Subtext: They said the experiments on young Black and Latino children in Harlem are over, yet some contend the experiments continue

Body: In May of this year, the Amsterdam News was among several newspapers that reported more than 100 New York City youth, most of them African American and Latino, between the ages of 6 and 11, were being used as guinea pigs to test the impact of a controversial drug, advocates charged.

According to members of the Coalition Against the Violence Initiative, these studies continue. To draw attention to the controversy, coalition members publicly demonstrate at any affair where any of the doctors involved in the research are scheduled to appear, as they did last Thursday when Dr. Daniel Pine spoke at a conference at the Penn Hotel.

"During the protest, two of our members were arrested," said Frank Morales. "They were able to get inside and were standing in the lobby when they were arrested and charged with criminal trespass. They spent a night in jail."

"Neither of the women arrested was allowed to see an attorney," said the Rev. John Vaughn, the minister of education and social justice at Riverside Church. "Because of their pending court date on Dec. 8, they have declined to speak to the press."

For several years, members of the coalition have been protesting experiments on the brain chemistry of Black and Latino boys to see if inborn and/or irreversible abnormalities in their serotonin levels (a substance that transmits impulses in the brain) are responsible for aggression, anxiety and violent behavior. The protesters contend that the studies were being conducted at the New York State Psychiatric Institute (NYSPI), the department of psychology at Queens College and the Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

"These studies ignore the true sources of violence and anxiety in the inner city, such as police brutality, poverty, racism, unemployment, and inadequate schools," Cassandra Mele explained. A statement from the coalition further notes, "These studies make no scientific sense: There is no way to correlate levels of serotonin with complex behavior patterns so as to establish cause and effect. There were no control groups to compare 'normal children' with study children to account for the stress
of the experiments. There was virtually no examination of environmental factors."

The protesters stated that the studies were unethical and potentially harmful. "And by using fenfluramine, a drug that has been outlawed by the FDA, they placed the children at risk with no benefits," said one of the more informed opponents of the studies who requested her name not be used. "They are doing such studies as these all over the place, and while they may have discontinued the use of fenfluramine, they are now using various hallucinogens.

"It's the Tuskegee experiments all over again," she added, noting the infamous government-sponsored syphilis study among Black men, in which they were deliberately denied proper medical treatment. "What we need is for one parent to come forward, and we would have the test case to launch a class-action suit against the hospitals."

"When we contacted Dr. Pine, he told us the studies were over," said James White, an attorney affiliated  with the coalition, "but we are not sure this is true."

Dr. Daniel Neuspiel, a pediatrician at the Beth Israel Hospital, expressed a similar doubt. "They may have completed this specific series of studies but I am not convinced that they are completed over in every phase. I would not be surprised if research continues along similar lines with the end purpose of blaming the victim."

Neuspiel also inferred that the parents may have been coerced into allowing their children to participate in the studies.

Claudia Bial of the NYSPI's public relations department told the Amsterdam News that Pine's report was old even when the media disclosed it back in May. "He completed the study in 1995, and it was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in September 1997," she said. In the study, entitled "Neuroendocrine Response to Fenfluramine Challenge in Boys," Pine's purposes are not at odds with the protesters' description, although he notes that fenfluramine "was given well before the medication
was withdrawn from the market."

Moreover, he added, "Families overwhelmingly reported that the research experience was a positive one." For each of the experiments, Pine reports that he was given parental consent, and the children could withdraw at any point if they wished. "None did," he reported.

"What bothered us, and the reason were are targeting Dr. Pine, is that he has apparently completed his studies and gotten away with it. All of this, the use of various drugs in the studies, is connected with large profits for the pharmaceutical industry," Mele said. "It is so easy to make these studies come out the way you want them to. According to several reports I've seen, there are no biological markers for any mental illness."

The coalition is planning further demonstrations and are "demanding an end to racist medical research and experimentation... We demand that Guiliani Administration make public all information regarding complicity of the Probation Department and the Board of Education in providing children's names."

Back to Tenet On-Line