It has taken more than 50 years but the Auckland District Health Board has finally publicly apologised to the women at the heart of New Zealand’s most controversial medical experiment.
This is the first time ADHB formally apologised that the experiment resulted in an early death for many women.
The women - patients at National Women’s Hospital in the 1960s and 70s - unwittingly took part in research carried out by the late Professor Herb Green.
His “Unfortunate Experiment” followed these women with cervical abnormalities without definitively treating them, and without their knowledge or consent.
ADHB Chair Pat Snedden says: “These patients, including mothers, sisters, partners, daughters, friends and colleagues, whaea and tamāhine, were failed by people they trusted to care for their health and wellbeing.
"We apologise to the women affected for these wrongs. And to those who have been with them, their whānau, supporters and communities, we also apologise."
Clare Matheson who was a patient of Professor Green’s for 12 years and eventually developed cervical cancer, says the apology is exactly what she wanted.
“It's comprehensive, unqualified, an admission of past mistakes and a firm affirmation to make sure they do not happen again.”
It’s believed about 70 of Green’s research patients went on to develop cervical cancer – about half of them died as a result.
Professor Green’s research had been approved by a committee of senior medical staff at National Women’s which was then operated by the Auckland Hospital Board. But now, at last, the ADHB has decided to “remedy this wrong”.
"To learn from the mistakes of the past,” Snedden says, “it is critical that we remember all aspects of our history, including this serious failure in our care.”
The ADHB apology follows a similar move by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in 2017.
In the mid-1980s Professor Green’s experiment became a major news story – the Government ordered an inquiry headed by Judge Silvia Cartwright.
Her report, released 30 years ago this month, said not only had there been a failure to treat the early stages of cervical cancer at National Women’s but also sustained failures in doctors' ethical practices in relation to information sharing and obtaining informed consent.
SUNDAY reporter John Hudson, who has been following this story for over three decades, has a moving interview with Clare Matheson tonight on SUNDAY on TVNZ1 at 7.30pm.