Prof subpoenaed by City Council

Council is looking into medical research tests from 30 years ago.

· November 21, 2002, 5:00 am

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University medical research practices from nearly 30 years ago were again brought into court yesterday.

The Philadelphia City Council, with Councilman David Cohen leading the way, brought a subpoena against the University and against Dermatology Professor Emeritus Albert Kligman last month to obtain specific information about medical tests he performed on prison inmates from Northeast Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison, which was closed in 1995.

The tested prisoners had received compensation for the tests conducted by the University from 1951 to 1974. However, in 2000, 298 ex-prisoners filed a lawsuit against the University, Kligman, the city and two pharmaceutical companies -- Johnson and Johnson and Dow Chemical Company -- claiming that they had long-term medical damage from the testing, during which they were exposed to a variety of chemicals.

The Federal District Court threw that lawsuit out of court in September, claiming that the statute of limitations had expired on the case.

However, City Council has begun its own investigation into the Holmesburg Prison testing and what they believe were the wrongs that were committed in the criminal justice system at the time.

Robert Jaffe, who is representing City Council, claimed that Penn "did horrible things to these people."

"The city of Philadelphia and Penn did something wrong, and they got out on a loophole," he said. "It's not fair."

Cohen and his fellow Council members are trying to "right the wrong" and "make whole" the inmates.

Arthur Makadon, the attorney for the University Board of Trustees and for Kligman, said that the case was superfluous and "is a matter which relates to an event that took place during the 1950s and 1960s as part of a legislation that was out of existence."

"Basically, the City Council subpoena power is limited to legislative efforts," said Rebecca Harmon, a University of Pennsylvania Health System spokeswoman. "This matter has been left and resolved in the courts. We've made our opinion known on many occasions."

Court of Common Pleas Judge Matthew Carrafiello presided over the issue yesterday, but refrained from making a decision on the case until further information could be obtained. Carrafiello put the case under advisement for 20 days due to its "the intriguing issues."

Jaffe attests that although the lawsuit was initially thrown out of court and that similar testing is prohibited, "the Federal Court never reached the merits of the case."

"Penn, and only Penn, knows the details of this case; they know more than anyone else," Jaffe said. "We're acting on a moral obligation, and I believe that Penn also has a moral obligation."

"Ultimately the University is going to have to look in the mirror of the washroom and see their face and realize that it's dirty and they need to wash it," Cohen said.

Council members say they have no specific desire for the results of the investigation.

"We're looking for overwhelming apologies and the assurance that they will seek to right the wrong done and find other methods of restitution," Cohen said.

"That's not a legal thing that ought to have been done, but it has to be," Cohen added.

But, according to Harmon, the University has already done so.

"We had made an offer for medical services in 1998," Harmon said of an agreement made by the University. Shortly after Temple University Urban Studies Professor Allen Hornblum published his book Acres of Skin, which gave an account of the Holmesburg tests, the University offered free medical services to any former inmate who continued to suffer from ailments related to the tests.

"That offer still stands," she added.

The University tested a variety of products on the inmates, including skin creams, liquid diets, toothpaste, shampoo and foot powders. The tests ultimately lead to the creation of the popular dermatology medication Retin-A, which was patented by Kligman.

The lawsuit filed by the nearly 300 former prisoners claimed that they had been exposed to a variety of infectious diseases, psychotropic drugs including LSD, radioactive isotopes and the poison dioxin.

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