Post World War II, the world witnessed a blanket cease fire on the use of atomic bombs and nuclear weapons. The United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), a federal civilian agency, was established by the Atomic Energy Act. This Act was signed in by President Harry S. Truman on August 1, 1946, to control the use of nuclear weapons and to ensure that if nuclear energy is used, it should be used peacefully.
In order to study the impact of the radioactive fallout of nuclear weapons on the world population, a secret mission by the name ‘Project SUNSHINE’ was commissioned. This project started in 1953 and was kept secret till 1956. It was a joint venture by the AEC and United States Air Force Project Rand. Years later, it was found that the Governments were stealing body parts for this particular study.
Skeletons in the Closet
It was a top-secret international operation. America and Britain stole dead babies for almost three decades. This devastating information was brought to light when some of the country’s leading hospitals were subjected to organ retention scandals. The American Department of Energy released a paper in light of this controversy. According to the paper, scientists from the UK Atomic Energy Authority would remove children’s bones and bodies and ship them off to the United States for classified nuclear experiments.
The documents released by the US, contained letters that were exchanged between American and British government scientists. These letters had discussions of levels of radiation in the ribs of stillborn babies and the list of dead children’s bodies which were obtained from the Middlesex Hospital and transported to the American nuclear laboratories.
The babies that were stolen, were not named. In fact, they were treated as ‘guinea pigs’ and assigned codenames to keep their identity hidden. For example, a baby named Baby B-1102 was a boy who died at the age of eight months and Baby B-595 was a girl who lived for only 13 months.
The reports that were released, were stamped as ‘top secret’ admitted that the doctors at the Central Middlesex Hospital’s Department of Morbid Anatomy and Histology helped the government smuggle these children.
Although the U.S. government had released the document incriminating them as well as Britain, they did hide some of the more embarrassing documents. When they were asked to release a file entitled Classified Discussions at Harwell, the headquarters in Oxfordshire belonging to the British government’s nuclear research activities, the Department of Energy of the US, said, “This document has been determined to be not declassifiable and has been removed from this folder.’
This mission of the US and Britain was ordered to be investigated by former President Bill Clinton and was named Project Sunshine. This devastating revelation stated, ‘Researchers employed deception in the solicitation of bones of deceased babies from intermediaries with access to human remains.’
Blurred Lines of the Law
The documents revealed the transcript of a meeting held in Washington. It revealed that Willard Libby, who was a renowned scientist and had won the Nobel prize for his research into carbon dating techniques, had instructed his colleagues to skirt the law in search of bodies.
He said, “Human samples are of prime importance, and if anybody knows how to do a good job of body-snatching, they will really be serving their country.” Libby also said that he had hired an expensive law firm to find a loophole in the law against body-snatching.
The British Involvement
British scientists were in collaboration with this project in the early Fifties as per the document. The letters found in the submitted documents also stated information about stillborn children whose bones had been experimented on in Britain. The bodies were from England which was known as ‘Area Five’ by the controllers of the project, they were compared with the ones from San Francisco.
Around 6,000 bodies were collected between the period of 1955 and 1970. While Britain was supplying America with the bodies, it was also conducting its own research. The British government denied any involvement in the project.
Disrespecting the Dead
A woman named Jean Prichard lost her baby in 1957. When she received her baby’s body, the child’s legs were removed by the doctors at the hospital and were taken to Harwell without her permission or notice.
In order, to prevent her from finding out what they had done to her baby, the doctors had forbidden her from being dressed for the funeral. She said “I asked if I could put her christening robe on her, but I wasn’t allowed to, and that upset me terribly because she wasn’t christened. No one asked me about doing things like that, taking bits and pieces from her.”
The Actual Extent of the Nightmare
A document also stated that the British conducted tests on babies not just from Britain, but Hong Kong too and acquired body parts from some doctors in Cambridge, NewMarket, Norwich, and Chelmsford. A cancer research center in London named the Royal Marsden Hospital also took part in the project as per the document.
Over half of the bodies which were used for the testing were of newborns or of very young babies. The laboratories at Cambridge University burnt the bones of the babies and the scientists from Britain, said that their research ended in the seventies.
In the nineties, however, researchers from Aldermaston and Harwell had obtained fetal and placental tissues from Oxfordshire and Cumbria. This time around, they said that the samples were collected with the consent of the families. How much of this statement is true, is still unclear.