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A tragic epidemic of blindness in babies

‘In the period immediately after World War II, many new treatments were introduced to improve the outlook for prematurely-born babies. Over the next few years it became painfully clear that a number of changes in caretaking practices had produced completely unexpected harmful effects. The most notable of these tragic clinical experiences was an “epidemic” of blindness, retrolental fibroplasia, in the years 1942-54. The disorder was found to be associated with the way in which supplemental oxygen had come to be used in the management of incompletely developed newborn babies. The twelve-year struggle to halt the outbreak provided a sobering demonstration of the need for planned evaluation of all medical innovations before they are accepted for general use.’

Silverman WA. Human experimentation: a guided step into the unknown. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985:vii-viii.