‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ was an investigation into medical research and vaccine trials carried out on children and babies in Mother & Baby homes and other institutions until 1973. During the making of the programme we uncovered a number of previously unknown trials. However we also stumbled across the truly shocking story of ‘illegimate’ babies who didn’t survive.
Sally Mulready was one of four siblings born in Mother and Baby homes around 1950. Her Mother was a waitress and home help, called Sheila Deasy. When she became pregnant, it was to a former workhouse called St Pat’s on Dublin’s Navan Road that she was sent. St Pat’s was a former workhouse, with high rates of child mortality, in common with other Mother and Baby homes at the time.
In 1947 Sally’s brother John died in St Pat’s. He was two months’ old. The record of his death tells us that he died of ‘inanition’ or ‘failure to thrive’. His records also note that he was not buried for three years. Initially dismissed as a clerical error, it soon became apparent that he was not alone. The cemetery logbook recorded a series of entries, with John Deasy among them, as ‘AS’. This turned out to stand for ‘Anatomical Study’. John’s baby body had been used for medical research by anatomy students at Trinity. There is no record that the consent of his mother was sought or given.
During the making of ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’ we discovered that the bodies of four hundred and sixty ‘illegimate’ infants had been sent to anatomy laboratories between 1940 and 1965. The practise may have been a macabre echo of the workhouse practise of sending unclaimed cadavers to Medical Schools, where they were in short supply, highly valued. The difference of course was that these bodies had, for the most part, living mothers. The Daughters of Charity which ran St Pat’s said they had no knowledge of this practise. Yet its continuation until so recently tells us something of the value placed on women and children in these institutions.