Vial episode over after precious blood comes home to Elcho Island

Blood taken from about 1200 members of a remote Indigenous community in 1967 and subject to repeated scientific experiments has been returned.


Five decades ago, government health workers drew blood from the people of this community living on Elcho Island off the tip of Arnhem Land – to test for typhoid, they said.

Blood taken from about 1200 members of a remote Indigenous community in 1967 and subject to repeated scientific experiments has been returned.

What they did not say was this: we’re keeping the blood.

It eventually ended up in a freezer at the Australian National University.

In 1968, a severe typhoid outbreak hit Elcho Island. Government health workers drew blood from about 1200 members of the community to test for the disease.

There was a smoking ceremony for the blood samples at the ANU.

Over the next few decades, scientists used that blood for DNA and molecular experiments, and to hunt for markers of disease.

It took 20 years for the family of African American Henrietta Lacks to discover her cells had been harvested in 1951 during a routine operation, and were now being grown and used by scientists all around the world. After a long fight, the family eventually won limited control over their ancestor's cells.

Indigenous community engagement co-ordinator Azure Hermes flew out to Elcho Island to ask the community the tough question: we have your blood, what do you want us to do with it?

The future of medicine is genetic: without the data extracted from DNA, indigenous Australians will miss out.

Read more: The Age

their blood is no more precious than anyone else's You should get some blood from Bruce Pascoe and do a DNA test. Their blood was subjected to 'repeated scientific experiments'. That sounds like torture to me. Surely this is Australia's Tuskegee moment. Demand a Royal Commission and PM's apology.

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