A lawsuit brought against the University two years ago by ex-inmates of an area prison has been thrown out of court.
The nearly-300 plaintiffs alleged that they were used in University-sponsored experiments to test the efficiency of skincare drugs which later brought harm to their health.
The case was brought to the Federal District Court, where it was determined that the plaintiffs had waited too long to file the suit and that the statute of limitations had passed. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the prior decision of the district court, ending the case.
University General Counsel Wendy White said that the University was satisfied by the decision made by the panel of federal judges.
"We were pleased that the Court of Appeals had affirmed the ruling of the district court," White said.
However, Thomas Nocella, the attorney for the plaintiffs, said that the case was not over.
"The matter is still being discussed, really," Nocella said.
The prisoners -- who were incarcerated at Holmesburg prison in Northeast Philadelphia, which closed in 1995, were paid by the University to participate in several dermatological studies from 1951 to 1974. The studies tested products such as skin creams, liquid diets, toothpaste, shampoo and foot powders.
The suit claimed that the prisoners had been exposed to a variety of infectious diseases, psychotropic drugs, radioactive isotopes and the poison dioxin.
Nearly 30 years later, in 1998, the tests received much publicity when Allen Hornblum, a Temple University Urban Studies professor, published an account of the experiments at the Holmesburg Prison in his book Acres of Skin.
By 2000, 298 ex-prisoners filed a group lawsuit for long term injuries against the University, Dermatology Professor Emeritus Albert Kligman, who lead the studies, the city of Philadelphia, and two pharmaceutical companies -- Johnson and Johnson and Dow Chemical Company.
Nocella said that his clients had the option to petition, which would send the case to be retried in the Third Circuit or brought to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Nocella said he plans to bring the options to the ex-prisoners' steering committee next week. The committee, which represents the larger group of plaintiffs, will then determine the best course of action for the group.
Although Nocella was unsure of the outcome of a petition, he emphasized the necessity of the petition.
"It really is a state question. Whether the Supreme Court wants to get involved is uncertain," Nocella said.
"It's important because of the human rights issue," he explained. "It's not so much the monetary issue."
No sum had been stipulated in the suit for damages. However, Nocella added that "an apology from the city and Penn is basically what [the ex-prisoners] want."
White seemed skeptical about the petition.
"We don't think that the Third Circuit will retry the case or that the Supreme Court will take the case," White said. "The case really doesn't warrant that."
According to Nocella, although the case had already been sent through the District Court, the matter is still being discussed by City Council, which will continue with the matter this October.
The plaintiffs' main complaint is that although they were paid for their services, they had no idea of the long term effects of the experiment.
A statement made on May 20, 1998, by the University on behalf of Kligman, said that "to the best of his knowledge, the result of those experiments advanced our knowledge of the pathogenesis of skin disease, and no long-term harm was done to any person who voluntarily participated in the research program."
The experiments also resulted in the production of the popular prescription skincare drug Retin-A, which Kligman was able to patent.
After the controversy generated by Hornblum's book, the University's Health System offered free consultations to any ex-convict who participated in the experiments and believed that their current health problems were created by the testing.
However, few inmates stepped forward, and of those who did, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that then-Medical School Senior Vice Dean Richard Tannen said that the former inmates' complaints "were not what I consider major health issues."Comments powered by Disqus
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.