Penn Medicine apologizes for notorious doctor who conducted experiments on Holmesburg Prison inmates

The Dean of Penn Medicine on Friday issued an apology for the work of Dr. Albert Kligman, a longtime faculty member who was a pioneer in the field of acne medicine but has since been notorious for conducting medical research on inmates, most of them Black, at. Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison.

The apology was included in a statement by J. Larry Jameson, dean of Penn Medicine, posted online.

Jameson also outlined steps Penn Medicine is taking to address the damage caused by Kligman’s behavior, “which has not now and never been morally acceptable.”

Allen Hornblum, author of the 1998 book Hectares of skin, as detailed horrors of the medical experiments performed at Holmesburg prison, said in an email to The Inquirer that he hopes Penn Medicine will “follow up on their statement to correct the programs and new hires.”

Hornblum said: “Dr. Kligman was one of the most unethical and mercenaries of Cold War scientists, as he was willing to entertain any research protocol, no matter what danger it posed to the desperate, uneducated men and women imprisoned in the county jail. ”

Hornblum added: “For decades, Penn has continued to honor Dr. Kligman with lectures and professorships, despite his terrible record of using institutionalized children and prisoners. Although Penn has finally come around – due to increasing public pressure – their record on this subject is an embarrassment to higher education and the esque they hold so much. ”

A committee convened by Jameson in 2019 acknowledged that Kligman, who died in 2010, “made groundbreaking contributions to dermatology” offset by how he conducted his research.

“Penn Medicine acknowledges that the work done by Dr. Kligman was terribly disrespectful to individuals – many of whom were imprisoned black men – denying them autonomy and informed consent, which the medical community now considers to be the fundamental basis for conducting ethical research. “Jameson wrote.

“Penn Medicine apologizes for the pain, Dr. Kligman’s work caused to imprisoned individuals, their families and our wider community. While we cannot change this story, the actions we are announcing today as an institution will change significant aspects of how we recognize Dr. for underserved and vulnerable populations, ”Jameson wrote.

To address Kligman’s legacy, Jameson announced that an annual lecture in his honor has been interrupted. The lecture was suspended last year pending the committee’s report.

“Kligman Professorship II” is renamed Bernett L. Johnson Jr. MF Professorship. Johnson was a longtime black faculty member in the Department of Dermatology and chief physician at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital “who was a staunch advocate of diversity, equality and inclusion,” Jameson said.

The first Bernett Johnson professor will be Susan Taylor, who is the first vice president of diversity, equities and inclusion for the dermatology department and an innovator in skin color dermatology, Jameson said.

Research funding for “Diversity and Equality in Dermatological Research, Education and Care will be established.”

Jameson said the multi-year financial commitment will redirect funds that were previously in Kligman’s name. The funds go to scholarships for high school students in the cities “of all socioeconomic, racial and ethnic backgrounds to participate in the Penn Academy for Skin Health (PASH), a program that engages local high school students with innovative STEM research related to dermatology, with a specific segment of the program dedicated to research focusing on color skins, ”said Jameson.

The funds also go to one New dermatology diversity residency position to train more dermatologists interested in skin color and programs to support West Philadelphia residents, Jameson said.

And the funds go to three research fellowships for two medical students and a postdoctoral fellow to conduct research related to skin disorders among colored patients, Jameson said.

In January, two dermatologists, Adewole Adamson, assistant professor at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austinand Jules Lipoff, a faculty member at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote one commentary urging Penn to sever ties with Kligman.

“I think this message is a step in the right direction. It’s been a long time since Penn apologized for the violations of one of their prominent faculty members. However, there are a few questions regarding the statement that are missing or related, ”Adamson said in an email Friday night.

“There are two professorships named after Dr. Kligman, but only one is mentioned as renamed. That leaves questions about the fate of the second professorship. There are research laboratories at Penn named after Dr. Kligman. The press release does not mention whether they will remain, “Adamson said.

“The press release goes out of its way to suggest that what Dr. Kligman made, was ‘legal’. However, there was a lawsuit brought by the victims of his prison experiments, which was thrown out because of the statute of limitations and not necessarily because of the legality of the case, ”Adamson added.

“The press release centers on the results and grandeur of Dr. Kligman and does not mention anything by name victims like Leodus Jones who fought on behalf of the Holmesburg prisoners. Furthermore, the press release does not mention the specific violations that Dr. Kligman committed, ”Adamson said.

“The Residence Diversity Initiative, which they want to fund, was already in place before this committee statement,” Adamson said.

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