Out-of-the-way memorial remembers Cincinnati patients who died in radiation testing

Blog post leads to memorial being cleaned up

CINCINNATI -- Hidden behind the bushes at University of Cincinnati Medical Center is a plaque dedicated to a dark memory in Cincinnati medical research.

The plaque lists the names of 70 local cancer patients who died between 1960 and '72 during full-body radiation research at the former Cincinnati General Hospital.

One of them, Maud Jacobs, was hospitalized after one treatment. She never left the hospital and died three weeks later, according to Martha Stephens.

Stephens is a retired English professor and the whistleblower who brought the research of Dr. Eugene Saenger to light.

"At the time they didn't want it to be known, and UC still doesn't," Stephens said.

Recently, a blogger posted pictures of the overgrown memorial online. UC has since landscaped the area.

"The court required as part of the final settlement that such a plaque be installed," Stephens said.

University of Cincinnati responded to questions about the maintenance, saying in part: "When notified that the memorial had been unintentionally covered by overgrown landscaping, the issue was addressed with new landscaping within hours."

Here is the university's complete statement: 

The whole body radiation study that took place at the then-named Cincinnati General Hospital from 1960 to 1972 is regrettable. A memorial plaque in honor of the patients involved was placed near the since-demolished building where the treatments took place.

We have learned a great deal since then on the ethical responsibilities of informed participation in research. Our role is not only to do the research to advance healthcare, but to protect the patients involved in that research. As such, memorials are not enough. Our efforts are to never let this happen again, and to let this legacy be the real memorial to the patients. This is why community advocates often serve on our Institutional Review Boards to help monitor the research and the process of informed consent.

When notified that the memorial had been unintentionally covered by overgrown landscaping, the issue was addressed with new landscaping within hours to prevent this from occurring again.

No plaque or memorial can ever replace the loss of life and pain experienced by these patients and their families. 

The path that leads to the area where the plaque sits has also been cleaned up. It can still be hard to see the plaque because it faces away.

Stephens criticized the memorial's location. She said she believes the victims deserve more.

UC called the old study "regrettable."

"Our role is not only to advance healthcare, but to protect the patients involved in that research," UC said in a written statement. "As such, memorials are not enough. Our efforts are to never let this happen again, and to let this legacy be the real memorial to the patients."

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