DUPLESSIS' ORPHANS

Translated from the Journal de Montreal

June 21, 1999


Orphans were used for experimentation in our universities

Against their wishes, Duplessis orphans contributed to the progress of science. In the 1940s and '50s an undetermined number of Duplessis Orphans deceased while institutionalized ended up on dissection tables in medical schools. Who else but their biological family could have claimed those children's remains? The Journal de Montréal, with the help of archivists from the Université de Montréal, uncovered correspondences between hospitals, universities and the Quebec government, which confirmed without the shadow of a doubt that such practices indeed took place. This explains why, to this day, families are still having difficulties finding their lost ones' exact burial place. It also breaks down the wall of silence and mystery still surrounding the "forgotten" cemetery of the old Asile Saint-Jean-de-Dieu. Wrongly declared "mentally ill", the Duplessis Orphans indeed faced the same fate as prisoners and people without family. In accordance with the Quebec law on the study of Anatomy, adopted in 1942, all <> had to render the cadaver of patients who died in their care and whose remains have not been claimed to the <> appointed by Quebec. This law aimed at ending the profanation of cemeteries as well as the commerce of cadavers -which brought in up to $50 a unit.

Without family

If no parent -as far related as second cousin- claimed remains within 24 hours following death, the cadaver was systematically made available to << universities and medical schools, in turns and in proportion to the number of student registered in each institution >>. In the case of the Duplessis Orphans, the religious communities renamed the children often and destroyed all traces of their biological parents, making it very unlikely that the family would intervene. Hospitals were under the obligation to render those cadavers under the conditions set up in the above-mentioned law -including those <> but << not yet interred >>. A fine of $50 was imposed for not doing so.

Paid by unit

The Inspector had a direct interest in the number of cadavers made available to medical schools as those schools paid him << $10 for each cadaver delivered; this on top of the transportation and interment costs >>. The Inspector had to make sure that << after the dissection, whatever was left of the cadaver was picked up and buried decently in a cemetery of the deceased's religion >>. The same procedure was to be followed for cadavers exceeding the needs of medical schools. In each hospital, the medical superintendent could not request an autopsy if it was to affect the << study of Anatomy and Surgery >>. Hence the low number of autopsies carried out in institutions at that time. The Inspector authorized the inscription on the registers of births, marriages and deaths of << a death certificate >>, which carried the same value as << a burial certificate >> and in fact replaced it.

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