The Massachusetts Institute of Technology scientist who approved radiation testing on mental patients without their consent has branded the current controversy over the experiments "ridiculous."
Robley D. Evans, who headed the radioactivity center at MIT after World War II, said parents of teenage test subjects were not told about the radiation part of the experiments because the amounts used were "trivial."Recent disclosures about radiation tests on teens at the Fernald State School in Waltham, Mass., touched off a federal and state search of records to see how extensive such tests were and whether patients suffered any harm because of them.
Evans said in Friday's Boston Herald that the controversy over the tests is "absolutely much ado about nothing, and it's inflammatory." Evans defended the research done by MIT and Harvard and said the media had blown the exeriments out of proportion.
"You guys (the media) keep calling them radiation experiments, and they weren't," Evans said. "They were tracer experiments. You can use tiny amounts of radioactive materials and trace drugs or minerals in the body with substantially no effects from the radiation."
Advocates for the mentally retarded have called the tests unethical. One, Dianne Quigley of the Childhood Cancer Research Institute, said that in her mind, "these studies are equal to war crimes."
Evans disagreed. He said the consent forms sent to parents did not mention radiation "because it was trivial" and because to do so might cause parents and guardians to become alarmed.
He said doses of radioactive materials fed to Fernald patients "were so low that they are still under the international recommendations of today."
Evans, now 87 and retired in the Southwest, headed MIT's radioactivity center from 1945 to 1977. In that position, he sat on an MIT committee that approved the use of radiation in studies involving mentally retarded teenagers at the Fernald school.