The report was triggered by the publication of a Metro magazine article by Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle, ‘An Unfortunate Experiment’, which alleged that cervical cancer patients at Auckland’s National Women’s Hospital were receiving inadequate treatment.
Dr Herbert Green of the hospital’s cervical cancer clinic had become convinced that abnormal cells in the cervix did not always progress to invasive cancer. Coney and Bunkle claimed that, from 1966, he began monitoring patients without treating them or informing them that they were taking part in an experiment. A number of women developed cervical cancer, and some died.
The article caused public outrage and the government established a Committee of Inquiry, headed by Judge Silvia Cartwright, to investigate allegations of patient mistreatment.
The resulting ‘Cartwright Report’ condemned the experiment and proposed radical new measures to ensure patients’ rights, including the establishment of a National Cervical Screening Programme.
A number of women received settlement packages. Charges against Dr Green did not proceed as he was deemed mentally and physically unfit to stand trial.