Saturday, April 03, 1999

UC radiation suit deal likely

Last holdout OKs $5M settlement

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        A federal lawsuit involving military-sponsored radiation experiments in Cincinnati will likely be settled for about $5 million Monday.

        The class-action lawsuit, which has raged on for five years, involved 73 families who say their loved ones were used as guinea pigs to see what effect radiation would have on their bodies.

        On Friday, the settlement won the agreement of the case's lone holdout, the only surviving patient from the experiments conducted from 1960 to 1971 in the basement of General Hospital (now University Hospital).

        The lawsuit claims many of the 89 deaths were hastened by the radiation doses.

        Robert Newman, attorney for about 50 of the plaintiffs, said the settlement will amount to about $50,000 for each family.

        “It's not a perfect settlement, for sure,” Mr. Newman said. “But it's a good settle ment, and this is the point that all the parties involved have wanted to reach.”

        The lawsuit claimed that terminally ill cancer patients — most of them poor, black people — were given full-body and partial-body doses of radiation when they came to the hospital for treatment.

        The study measured the physical and psychological effects of radiation on humans. It was supported by $651,000 from the Department of Defense. The military wanted to know what would happen to soldiers exposed to radiation during a nuclear war.

        Dr. Eugene Saenger, a world expert on radiation, headed the 11- year study. His lawyer says the radiation treatments were given in an attempt to cure the patients or to rid them of pain.

        The settlement requires no statement of wrongdoing from Dr. Saenger, but an apology from the federal government is part of the deal.

        R. Joseph Parker, attorney for Dr. Saenger, said the case

        could have dragged on for 10 more years if a settlement was not reached now.

        “It was just a question of looking at the ages of all the parties and the amount of time that would have been consumed by further litigation,” Mr. Parker said, explaining why his side agreed to the settlement.

        In addition to the $5 million and the apology, the settlement also calls for placing a memorial plaque on the University of Cincinnati campus identifying each of the 90 patients.

        Donna White Christy, Patient 087 in the experiments, was the last person to agree to the settlement.

        One of four children involved in the study, Ms. Christy suffered from bone cancer in 1969 when she went to the hospital for treatment.

        She has declined to comment publicly and could not be reached Friday. But Mr. Newman said she did not hold out over money.

        “All three sides have come to the middle to settle this very long and very ancient case,” Mr. Newman said. “(Ms. Christy) had some final concerns — mainly informational concerns — that had to be addressed.”

        Ms. Christy, a few of her friends and a radiation oncologist met with the mediator in the case Friday to iron out the final details, Mr. Newman said.

        Judge Sandra Beckwith will be asked to sign a preliminary agreement Monday. After that, the judge will schedule a final hearing, between 30 and 45 days later, for the final approval.

        The probate court will distribute the money sometime after that, Mr. Newman said.

        “Most of my clients were in this to set their family history straight and to get an apology from the federal government,” he said.


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