Indigenous People Sue Doctors For Conducting Alleged Secret Medical Experiment

Members of the Pictou Landing First Nation in Canada have launched a lawsuit alleging that radiologists performed medical experiments on them without their consent.

The chief of the Pictou Landing First Nation in Nova Scotia, Canada, says she willingly participated in a medical study in 2017 but was subjected to additional scans without her knowledge or consent as a part of a separate study on the livers of Indigenous subjects.

The allegations are outlined in a class-action lawsuit against two radiologists, certified by the Nova Scotia Supreme Court earlier this month — and are eerily reminiscent of other non-consensual, harmful medical experiments conducted on Indigenous people in Canada throughout history.

According to the statement of claim, lead plaintiff Andrea Paul — referred to as “Chief Andrea'' throughout the lawsuit — underwent an MRI as part of a medical research project being conducted by the Canadian Alliance for Health Hearts and Minds (CAHHM study) in 2017.

She felt “claustrophobic” in the confined position required for the MRI, the claim says, and she was not permitted to leave once it was over. Instead, she was detained inside the cylindrical chamber for an extended period so that additional scans — to which she had not consented — could be taken of her body.

This, according to the statement of claim, was so that defendants Robert Miller and Sharon Clarke, both of whom are radiologists employed at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University, could perform MRI elastography to study the livers of Indigenous subjects for the “Indigenous Study.” This was also done to 60 other people, according to the lawsuit, all of whom were members, or family or friends of members, of the Pictou Landing First Nation.

“Chief Andrea was unaware of the Indigenous study or that she was participating in it,” reads the statement of claim. “As she lay inside the claustrophobic MRI chamber, holding her breath, and cringing from the loud banging sounds around her, the MRI scans generated data that revealed intimate medical information about her body without her knowledge or consent. She had been singled out for the one reason — she was Mi’kmaq.”

While the data from the initial MRI were sent to CAHHM researchers as Chief Andrea intended, the additional information collected was only sent to Miller and Clarke.

According to the lawsuit, it wasn’t until 2018 that Chief Andrea learned that she had been subjected to additional scans to which she had not consented. By that time, Miller and Clarke had already presented the results of the Indigenous Study to a group of radiologists at a conference and had written an unpublished research paper called “MRI Findings of Liver Disease in an Atlantic Canada First Nations Population.”

The chief had voted to support the participation of Pictou Landing First Nation members in the CAHHM study, and discovering what had been done to her and other members of her community left her feeling “violated,” “humiliated,” and “betrayed.”

“Knowing the long history of subjecting Indigenous people in Canada to cruel medical experiments, including starvation studies among children, and knowing that there were research protocols in place to ensure the consent of Indigenous participants in health studies and to confirm the Indigenous right to own and control research data of Indigenous people, Chief Andrea felt powerless, vulnerable and discriminated against because she was Mi’kmaq,” the claim says.

This is a reference to a horrific 1940s government study in which over 1,200 Indigenous children were starved to determine the effects of malnutrition. Indigenous women have also been sterilized in Canada against their will, among other forms of mistreatment, discrimination, and oppression that Indigenous communities have long endured in Canada.

“As a result, Indigenous people have been reluctant to participate in health research and receive treatment from non-Indigenous doctors, health centers, and hospitals,” the claim says.

The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the defendants for invasion of privacy, unlawful imprisonment, negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, charter breaches, damages, and assault and battery.

A trial date has not yet been set.

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