Lawsuit by Prison Inmates Dismissed

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A lawsuit accusing the University of injuring and mistreating several hundred prison inmates during research studies of skin treatments in the 1960s and early 1970s has been dismissed by a federal appeals court. The suit had sought unspecified damages for the pain and suffering of the former inmates who participated in the research experiments.

Filed in Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas in October 2000, the suit accused Penn and Dr. Albert M. Kligman Gr’42 M’47 Int’51, emeritus professor of dermatology—as well as the City of Philadelphia, Dow Chemical Company, the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical firm, and Kligman’s Ivy Research Laboratories—of “negligence, carelessness, and recklessness” in “allowing infectious diseases, radioactive isotopes, dioxin, and psychotropic drugs” to be tested on the former prisoners “without their knowledge.” Some of the research, which took place at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison, led to the development of Retin-A, an anti-wrinkle cream. 

The panel ruled that the plaintiffs had been aware of the facts of the case for many years, and could have filed the suit before the time limit expired.

Although the use of “willing, compensated prisoners for biomedical research was a commonly accepted practice by this nation’s scientists” in the 1950s and 1960s, the University has stated, “it is now understood and agreed throughout the global scientific community that prisoners—regardless of their consent to participate and/or receipt of monies for same—cannot be considered appropriate candidates for any biomedical studies.”

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