The Baby Oxygen Trials and How the Federal Govt. Violated Consent Rule for Test Subjects

Just 24 weeks into her pregnancy, Sharrissa Cook gave birth to a critically ill baby boy. Dreshan weighed in at a fragile 1 pound, 11 ounces. He lay motionless in the incubator, connected to tubes and monitors in the neonatal intensive care unit at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Hospital.

“He was so tiny,” Cook recalls. “I was a first-time mom. I didn’t have a clue. I didn’t know what to expect.”

It was Oct. 11, 2006. Medical personnel asked Cook, then a 26-year-old single mother, to enroll little Dreshan in a study. She says they described it as a program offering assistance and encouragement to preemies—premature babies—and their families. She readily signed the consent form.

“I remember them telling me they were a support group who would pretty much hold my hand through the developmental process,” Cook says.

But in reality, the study was much more than that. It was a national, government-funded experiment on 1,316 extremely premature infants in which their fate may as well have rested with the flip of a coin.

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 Originally published June 3, 2014 

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