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In the 1950s Fresh claims of drugs tested on psychiatric patients

The clinic, as seen from the air, in an undated archive photo


A historian has claimed that around 1,000 patients at a Zurich psychiatric clinic were used to test medication from the 1950s to 1970s. It’s the latest in a chain of revelations about drug tests made on psychiatric patients in Switzerland.

Katharina Brandenberger shared information obtained from archived medical records for her doctorate, with the Swiss Public Television, SRF, programme, Schweiz Aktuell. She claims that the research department of the University Psychiatric Clinic Burghölzli in Zurich carried out the testing on patients.

In the 1970s alone, 44 different drugs were tested. If the patients refused to take tablets, they were injected. And drugs that had not yet been approved for use were also administered.  

A number of local politicians in Zurich have asked the cantonal government to provide answers. The president of the Swiss Patients’ Agency, Erika Ziltener, told the TV programme, “This issue affects the whole country, it must be worked on at a national level.” She called for rapid compensation for those affected.

The current director of the clinic, Erich Baumann, told SRF, "There is pressure and a legal basis for this to be clarified. And it's important that it's clarified. But it doesn't surprise me. We are one of the oldest clinics in Switzerland, and we therefore have a long history and tradition of research."

Similar cases

Medication was also said to have been tested on patients in a psychiatric clinic in Herisau, in central Switzerland, in the late 1950s. An unapproved drug was given to at least 18 male and female patients in the then Cure and Care Institution in Herisau in canton Appenzell Outer Rhodes.

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 external linkto look into tests at the clinic between 1946-1972. It will report back in 2018.

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