Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Release of new book from Otago University Press instrumental in getting an official apology decades in the making

The release of Dr Ron Jones’ book Doctors in Denial has been instrumental in getting one of the apologies the women of ‘the unfortunate experiment’ have been seeking for years.  

On TVNZ’s Sunday programme Auckland District Health Board chief medical officer, Margaret Wilsher, admitted they had regrets but have to yet to issue a formal apology. 

However last evening (13 February) as around 150 family, friends and colleagues of Ron Jones and AUT joined to celebrate the launch of the book, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Ian Page made a formal apology.  

‘The New Zealand committee of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists deeply regrets the events referred to by Professor Jones.’ 

Clare Matheson, who Ron Jones said had ‘championed the cause of the forgotten women’ was at the launch to hear the apology. Her response to the crowd following Ian Page’s statement was “after all these years, to have that official recognition was one of the most moving moments of my life. A genuine apology is a very meaningful thing and it can allay certain grievous emotions and things, so it must do good.’
Photo - Clare Matheson and Ron Jones
 Doctors in Denial | Ronald W Jones
Otago University Press

When Dr Ron Jones joined the staff of National Women’s Hospital in Auckland in 1973 as a junior obstetrician and gynaecologist, Professor Herbert Green’s study into the natural history of carcinoma in-situ of the cervix (CIS) – later called ‘the unfortunate experiment’ – had been in progress for seven years. By the mid-1960s there was almost universal agreement among gynaecologists and pathologists worldwide that CIS was a precursor of cancer, requiring complete removal. Green, however, believed otherwise, and embarked on a study of women with CIS, without their consent, that involved merely observing, rather than definitively treating them. Many women subsequently developed cancer and some died. In 1984 Jones and senior colleagues Dr Bill McIndoe and Dr Jock McLean published a scientific paper that exposed the truth, and the disastrous outcome of Green’s experiment. In a public inquiry in 1987 Judge Sylvia Cartwright observed that an unethical experiment had been carried out in large numbers of women for over 20 years. Since that time there have been attempts to cast Green’s work in a more generous light. This rewriting of history has spurred Ron Jones to set the record straight by telling his personal story: a story of the unnecessary suffering of countless women, a story of professional arrogance and misplaced loyalties, and a story of doctors in denial of the truth.

RONALD W. JONES is a retired obstetrician and gynaecologist and former clinical professor at the University of Auckland. He is a widely published international authority on lower genital tract pre-cancer and cancer. For over 30 years he has served on a range of national and international committees addressing the natural history, prevention and management of these cancers. He is a past president of the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease and chair of the Scientific Committee of the International Federation of Cervical Pathology and Colposcopy.


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