The forgotten women in the ‘unfortunate experiment’
Ronald W. Jones
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 Silvia 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.
'I have borne a burden of guilt for not having seen the study for what it was at the outset.'
– Mont Liggins
'He [Green] so believed he was right he was not seeing the results of what he was doing.'
– Dennis Bonham
'An excellent account of Herb Green’s experiment in the natural history of CIS, and of the management of the condition internationally. An enthralling read.'
– Professor Malcolm Coppleson
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.
‘Meticulously referenced, engagingly honest and a rewarding read’ – Rae Varcoe in New Zealand Books, Winter 2017
‘Doctors in Denial shows great respect for the women ... and while the subject makes for tough reading, it is worth it to ensure enough of us remember our history.’ – Sarah Jane O’Connor, Sciblogs, 11 March 2017
‘This brave, insightful and compelling book deserves wide readership. It has already had an impact; since its recent publication the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Auckland District Health Board have both issued public apologies to those affected by the experiment, albeit not without controversy.’ – Elspeth McLean, Otago Daily Times
Paperback, 230 x 150 mm, 248 pp. 16pp colour photographs, ISBN 978 0 947522 43 8, $39.95