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Historic case

Tests on humans in psychiatric clinic uncovered

Medication was tested on patients in a psychiatric clinic in Herisau, in central Switzerland, in the late 1950s. Medical notes show several patients collapsing and one death, Swiss public television SRF has discovered.

Documents seen by the programme Schweiz Aktuell – broadcast on Friday evening – show that in 1957 the not-yet approved drug G22355 was given to at least 18 male and female patients in the then Cure and Care Institution in Herisau in canton Appenzell Outer Rhodes. The drug was for depression and was delivered by the Basel pharmaceutical industry, the television report said.

During the tests, several people passed out and had outbreaks of sweating. One female patient died, according to study leader’s medical notes, SRF said. Patients were given up to 12 ampules of the medication. The tests lasted three months.

SRF said that the tests were most likely carried out without the express agreement of the patients involved.

The discovery has led to several calls to investigate the tests. “Human rights were breached then,” Jens Weber, a leftwing Social Democratic Party politician from the region, said in relation to the lack of permission from the patients. Cantonal government president Matthias Weishaupt said that society had a right to know the full story.

G22355 is a medication that was later approved. It is now sold under the name Tofanil.

Different times

Margrit Kessler, president of the Swiss Patients’ Association, explained that in the 1950s tests with high doses of medication were common and that deaths were accepted. “It’s a medication that you nowadays use against depression, but in a much lower dosage than what was used in these tests,” she explained.

The director of the present Psychiatric Centre Appenzell Outer Rhodes, Markus Schmidlin, told the television report that in the 1950s the alternative to the test medication was opium or a straitjacket. It is not known if the death was directly related to the medication, he added. The fact that the study leader had not covered it up was to his credit, he said.

Around three years ago it was revealed that drug tests had taken place in the Psychiatric Clinic in Münsterlingen in canton Thurgau in the 1950s and 1960s, without patient permission.

In spring 2015 the Thurgau cantonal government commissioned a research project to look into tests at the clinic between 1946-1972. It will report back in 2018.

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