It has been an amazing week and one that this time last year I wasn’t sure I would live to see. On the evening of Monday 13 February, my sister drove me into the city to attend the book launch of Ron Jones’ book Doctors in Denial: the forgotten women in the ‘unfortunate experiment.’
There were around 200 people at this auspicious event, a veritable who’s who in the community of people who have continued their involvement in various ways in the health field post-Cartwright. For some of us it has been a 30-year battle to ensure the radical changes to the health system brought in in the wake of the Cartwright Inquiry that took place in 1987/88 were maintained. We have lost some battles, eg New Zealand’s ethics committees, the four that are controlled by the Ministry of Health, no longer have the protection of research subjects at the heart of their work, and are now focused on expediting research trials in New Zealand due to the fact that the research industry is big business these days. And New Zealand’s National Cervical Screening Programme, another significant outcome of the Cartwright Inquiry, is also in danger of being weakened by changes in the process of being introduced. But over the past three decades we have kept the faith, gathering at the Spirit of Peace statue in front of what was once National Women’s Hospital on 5 August each year to remember the women who died as a result of Herbert Green’s ‘unfortunate experiment’ at National Women’s Hospital, as well as those who survived but were seriously harmed.
Ron Jones wrote this book in order to set the record straight following ongoing attempts by some doctors and academics to rewrite the history of what happened at the hospital in the 1960s through to the 1980s and who continue to maintain there was no experiment and Herbert Green was an innocent man falsely accused by a bunch of anti-doctor feminists. Ron Jones is a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist who worked at the hospital over several decades and was one of the authors of a paper published in 1984 in a prestigious medical journal that blew the whistle on what was happening to the women who were unknowingly part of Green’s experiment and were developing cervical cancer.
Reading Ron Jones’ book was on my bucket list. And attending the book launch proved to be a hugely emotional event due in part to the fact that after almost 30 years the College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology finally fronted up with a public apology to the women and their families –
Clare Matheson, who was one of Herbert Green’s “guinea pigs” who developed cervical cancer, was also at the book launch and she described being there to witness the apology as one of the most moving events of her life. It also had me and a number of others in tears.
Doctors in Denial makes for a riveting read. It is definitely a must read. So go out and buy a copy.