In a letter seen by the Irish Examiner to one of the victims of the trials, Maureen Downey Hickey, who was later adopted to the US, the HSE confirmed that while it is to receive 15,000 adoption files from Bessboro, it “has been advised that immunisation records will continue to be the responsibility of the order”.
The Irish Examiner reported last week that as the former adoption agency has not applied for accreditation, and is not compelled to do so under the Adoption Act, its adoption files will remain the private property of the order and cannot be inspected by the Adoption Authority.
More than 210 infants and babies, some 123 of whom were in the care of the state, took part in three confirmed trials to test vaccines between 1960 and 1973.
A number of people sent to the US for adoption and adopted domestically have recently filed requests under the Data Protection Act, asking for medical files and any evidence of their participation in the trials run by the Wellcome Foundation — whose income came from British drugs maker Burroughs Wellcome, which was later subsumed into GlaxoSmithKline.
Now adults, the participants say the drugs were given without parental consent and they have spent years trying to access their medical files and pharmaceutical information.
The office of the Data Protection Commissioner confirmed it has been in touch with the Sacred Heart Sisters Order and was satisfied it is the data controller in this instance and is therefore subject to and has responsibilities under the Data Protection Act.
The Sisters of the Sacred Heart Order could not be contacted for comment last night.
One of the victims of the trials at Bessboro, Mari Steed, said it was “unacceptable” that files containing her medical history could be deemed the private property of a religious order.
“The idea that immunisation records cannot be transferred with the adoption files and are privately owned by the religious order in question is an absolutely unacceptable scenario,” Ms Steed said. “They were merely the broker or subcontractor for my care. Ultimately, the state contracted their services in shipping me to the USA.”
The Adoption Rights Alliance called on the Government to reinstate the inquiry and said “questions must be asked as to why the Sacred Heart Adoption Society did not supply the HSE with the files relating to vaccine trials”.
The Laffoy Commission on Child Abuse was investigating vaccine trials between 1940 and 1987 as part of a separate module.
However, the investigation was brought to a sudden halt after court action was taken by the doctors involved in the trials.