MPs have called for an inquiry after 21 South Asian women were fed radioactive chapatis

Trust in medical professionals shattered as revelations of a harrowing experiment have emerged from the past. 

Scientists are on a quest to locate a group of 21 South Asian women who unwittingly became part of a life-altering event in the 1960s. This deeply unsettling story centres around a study from 1969 where 21 women of Indian origin residing in Coventry were exposed to chapatis laced with Iron-59, a radioactive isotope, as part of a secret, GP-administered experiment.

This troubling experiment recently resurfaced following demands by Coventry MP Taiwo Owatemi for a thorough investigation, and has ignited discussions across platforms like TikTok and X (formerly Twitter). Users are expressing their shock and repulsion, branding the experiment as “shocking,” “disgusting,” and “deeply, deeply unethical.”

Many of the women who participated had sought medical assistance for minor ailments like migraines, placing their trust in their doctors. Medical experts speculated that traditional diets might be contributing to anemia within the South Asian community, leading them to introduce bread laced with Iron-59 to the participants.

After consuming this radioactive bread, the women underwent radiation level assessments at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Oxfordshire. The stated goal was to quantify the extent of iron absorption. The study’s conclusion suggested that “Asian women should take extra iron due to the insolubility of iron in the flour.”

The flatbreads were laced with a highly toxic, radioactive substance called Iron-59

However, doubts have persisted regarding the adequacy of informed consent for the women involved, particularly since many were immigrants with limited English. These concerns came to the forefront in a 1995 Channel 4 documentary titled “Deadly Experiments.” The subsequent independent inquiry, funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and published in 1998, claimed that research ethics and regulations have evolved since the time of the experiments.

The MRC stated that the inquiry brought about new guidelines and improvements in research practices. Public interest in this disconcerting story was recently revived by a historian’s thread on X (formerly Twitter), garnering over 6.6 million views. Despite the passage of time and claims that regulations have improved, no follow-up has been conducted to ascertain whether the experimented-upon women suffered adverse health effects.

Coventry MP Taiwo Owatemi has called for a thorough investigation

MP Taiwo Owatemi, representing Coventry North West, described the revelations as ‘horrifying’ and pledged to initiate a parliamentary debate in September. Her primary focus is on the affected women and their families, asserting that consent was likely not properly sought and information not adequately provided during the experiment.

Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana echoed these concerns, stating: “I understand that in the intervening years, the women have still not been identified, meaning that errors of the past have still not been addressed. I am shocked that in spite of having been exposed decades ago, the South Asian community in Coventry has still not had a full explanation of what happened”.

Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana has supported calls for a statutory inquiry

She has supported calls for a statutory inquiry to shed light on the study’s conduct and its impact on the women in order to provide long-awaited answers to a community left in the dark.

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