Doctors in Denial
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 gynecologist, 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.