A voice for women's health

Cartwright Inquiry

The Auckland Women’s Health Council has produced a response to .......(1) Linda Bryder's claims that Dame Silvia Cartwright got it wrong and that the 1988 Report on the Inquiry into the treatment of cervical cancer at National Women’s Hospital was based on a misunderstanding, and there was no experiment at National Women’s Hospital. It appeared in the AWHC's newsletter - September 2009.

(1) Censored!

This is not the first time that attempts have been to dispute the findings of the Cartwright Inquiry and to discredit the testimony of many of those who gave evidence at the Inquiry. It is important to bear in mind that those who write about what happened at National Women’s Hospital during the 1960s and 1970s do so without having seen the medical files of the women who did not receive the treatment they should have and as a result got cervical cancer. Some of them died.

The article written by Sandra Coney and Phillida Bunkle that appeared in the June 1987 issue of Metro can be downloaded here.

The Cartwright Report was publicly released on 5 August 1988 and is available online at http://www.nsu.govt.nz/Current-NSU-Programmes/3233.asp

Further information about the Cartwright Inquiry and the evidence that was presented during the Inquiry can be found on Women's Health Action's website - www.womens-health.org.nz

Linda Bryder's book on the "unfortunate experiment" that took place at National Women's Hospital from 1965 to 1974 is an unfortunate attempt to rewrite history. In her book, Linda Bryder mispresents the medical history of the woman at the centre of the Cartwright Inquiry, Clare Matheson, despite the fact that Clare Matheson's medical file can be found in both the Cartwright Report as well as being detailed in the book that Clare wrote about her experience - "Fate Cries Enough." More on this can be found in the article by Chris Barton in the Weekend Herald 15 August 2009 - http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10590850&pnum=0

This article describes what is wrong with Linda Bryder's arguments regarding what happened to Clare Matheson as well as the women who were part of the "unfortunate experiment."

Clare has written to the History Department at Auckland University and protested at the errors and ambiguities about her that have appeared in a book that emanated from the History Department and was published by Auckland University Press. Clare has given permission for the AWHC to publish her account of how Linda Bryder got it so wrong on this website. It is as follows: 

A History of the ‘Unfortunate Experiment' at National Women’s Hospital: One patient’s perspective

Professor Charlotte Paul, one of Judge Silvia Cartwright's medical advisors, was interviewed by Kim Hill on National Radio on Saturday 15 August 2009, and during the interview she clearly explained how Linda Bryder got the science wrong. The interview can be accessed at http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/saturday

Professors Charlotte Paul and Linda Holloway, two of Judge Cartwright's medical advisors, have responded to the article that appeared in the 15 August 2009 issue of the New Zealand "Listener"  with an article that examines some of the many scientific and medical misunderstandings and mistakes that appear in Linda Bryder's book and were repeated in the Listener article. The article "Scientific facts and the unfortunate experiment"  can be accessed at http://www.listener.co.nz/issue/3617/letters/13907.html

Anne Else's Letter from Elsewhere entitled "Controversy over the "unfortunate experiment" can be found at http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0908/S00133.htm

Joanna Manning is the editor of  "The Cartwright Papers: Essays on the Cervical Cancer Inquiry 1987-88" published by Bridget Williams Books in December 2009. Joanna Manning is an Associate Professor at the Auckland University Faculty of Law and she specialises in medical law policy and ethics. Chapter 5 "The Making of a Controversy" by Barbara Brookes, Professor of History at Otago University, offers a powerful critique of Linda Bryder's "failure to weigh up all the evidence from different sources" as befits a good academic historian, and her decision instead to take "on the role of advocate for Herbert Green." See pages 100-117 in "The Cartwright Papers."  More information can be found at http://www.bwb.co.nz/store/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=245

David Skegg responds to Linda Bryder's book and outlines the achievements of the National Cervical Screening Programme in the NZ Herald. His article can be accessed at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/health/news/article.cfm?c_id=204&objectid=10597266

A comprehensive feature article by Chris Barton, "An unfortunate fallout: Academics against Bryder's revisionist history," appeared in the Weekend Herald on Saturday 19 September 2009. The article can be accessed at http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=18objectid=10598213



It is of course the right place for such a rebuttal - Sandra Coney has responded to Linda Bryder's book in an article written for METRO magazine which featured in the October 2009 issue of the magazine under the title An Unfortunate History.

If you want a copy of this article, you can email the Auckland Women's Health Council on awhc@womenshealthcouncil.org.nz and we will email you a copy.


Professor Ron Jones responds:

In the 2 December 2009 issue of New Zealand Doctor Auckland gynaecologist Professor Ron Jones, a key player in the events that led to the Cartwright Inquiry, asks: "Why did so many women get cancer?" This article can be accessed at: 




Otago University professors join stand against Linda Bryder's book

In a book published by Bridget Williams Books, Professor David Skegg, Professor Charlotte Paul, and Professor Barbara Brookes are scathing of the 2009 book by Linda Bryder criticising the findings of the 1988 Cartwright Inquiry - see article in Otago Daily Times published on Monday 25 January 2010  -



"Chain Reaction of Revisionism" 

A collection of essays on lessons from the Cartwright Inquiry became an examination of why some in the medical profession have refused to accept its findings. NZ Herald reporter Chris Barton reviews "The Cartwright Papers" in the 13 February 2010 issue of the NZ Herald - 



Study confirms findings of Cartwright Inquiry

A paper by Dr Margaret McCredie, Dr Charlotte Paul and others published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology confirms that women were part of Dr Herbert Green's experimental research at National Women's Hospital in the 1960s and 1970s.





August 5th Ceremony 2009


8.30am Wednesday 5th August 2009
Claude Road, Epsom, Auckland

On August 5th 2009 the Auckland Women’s Health Council held its 20th annual ceremony at the Statue of Peace on the site of the former National Women’s Hospital.


The Herstory of the Annual Ceremony

On August 5th 1988 Judge Silvia Cartwright’s report on the Inquiry into the treatment of cervical cancer at National Women’s Hospital was publicly released.

On August 5th the following year the Auckland Women’s Health Council organised a conference to discuss progress on implementing the recommendations contained in the Cartwright Report. The events of the day included a visit to the Statue of Peace sited in front of the hospital where women gathered to remember those women who had been part of “the unfortunate experiment” at the hospital during the 1960s and 1970s, and who died or were damaged as a result of not receiving the treatment they needed.

The visit was the first of what is now an annual ceremony held in front of the statue on August 5th each year as we gather to bring flowers in memory of the women who died and those who suffered.

On 18 September 1993, Women’s Health Action unveiled a plaque and planted a pohutukawa tree in memory of Dr Bill McIndoe, cytologist and colposcopist at the hospital from 1963-83, and Dr Malcolm McLean, who was a pathologist at the hospital from 1961–88. The ceremony was attended by family, friends and colleagues of the two doctors, members of women’s health groups, the manager of National Women’s Hospital, and people who had been involved in the Cervical Cancer Inquiry who attended to acknowledge the efforts of both men to get action within the hospital over the cervical cancer experiments.

The tree and plaque are beside a path in the hospital grounds near what used to be the colposcopy clinic where Dr McIndoe worked and overlooked by Dr McLean’s pathology laboratory.

Since 1993 the annual ceremony at the statue of peace is always followed by a walk to the back of the building to lay flowers around the plaque beneath the now large pohutukawa tree which is always in flower in August while we pause to acknowledge the work of both men and the price they paid for what they did.

Latest research describes consequences for Cartwright Inquiry women

The results of a retrospective study on 1063 women whose medical files formed part of those investigated during the Cartwright Inquiry in 1987-88 have been published in the latest issue of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

The study was supported by funding from the Cancer Society of New Zealand and was led by researchers Margaret McCredie and Charlotte Paul from Otago University and Ron Jones from National Women’s Hospital. It confirmed that many women attending National Women’s Hospital with cervical intraepithelian neoplasia 3 (CIN3) were not treated curatively in Herbert Green’s clinical study of the natural history of the pre-cancerous condition and that the women “underwent numerous interventions that were aimed to observe rather than treat their condition, and their risk of cancer was substantially increased.”

First study of effects on women

The researchers state “while analyses of the ethical failures of the clinical study have been influential in improving processes for the proper conduct of research, and a number of independent studies have been published using the data, no account has been given previously of the direct effects on the women who participated.”

This study compared the results for women in Dr Green’s 1965-74 “clinical study” with those for women attending the hospital during the years before and after the study. It also compares the women in Green’s study who were initially managed with a small, diagnostic punch or wedge biopsy of the cervix, with patients treated at the outset with procedures such as cone biopsy or hysterectomy intended to cure the women of CIN3.

Examination of medical records

The researchers described how their reanalysis of the women’s medical records and examination of histopathology slides and cytology smears along with “excellent retrieval of material stored for up to 40 years” provided them with the means to obtain an objective and systematic account of the medical experience of the women who were part of Green’s unfortunate experiment. The study also confined the inclusion of the clinical management of each woman to the 10 years following the initial diagnosis, “so that the analysis was not influenced either by the longer follow-up for women in earlier diagnostic periods or by the review and recall of women following the judicial inquiry.” This meant that the total number of medical interventions for each woman was much higher than that documented in the study.

The study revealed that “the risk of invasive cancer of the cervix or vaginal vault was significantly higher among women diagnosed with CIN3 in 1965 – 1974, even though women diagnosed in the earlier period (1955 – 1964) were chiefly an unscreened population, and therefore their disease is likely to have been present for a longer period prior to diagnosis.”

Incidence of cancer much greater

It also found that among women diagnosed with CIN3 in 1965 – 1974, the incidence of invasive cancer was ten times greater in the core group of women who received only a punch or wedge biopsy initially than in women who were treated with the intent to cure their disease. Nearly all cancer deaths among women diagnosed in this period occurred in the core group of women.

The final paragraph of this paper acknowledges the women who were the focus of the Cartwright Inquiry with the words:

The consequences of the clinical study were profound for the women who participated. When initial treatment of curative intent was withheld, their lives were seriously disrupted by the need to attend hospital for numerous additional medical interventions that would not have been necessary had treatment of curative intent been offered at the outset. Moreover, they had a substantially increased incidence of invasive cancer, with all the emotional stress and physical symptoms that the diagnosis of genital malignancy entails. We have published these findings to document and to acknowledge the harm suffered by these women.”

Margaret McCredie, Charlotte Paul et al. “Consequences in women of participating in a study of the natural history of cervical intraepithelial neoplasia 3” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. 2010.



Clare Matheson talks about what the publication of this study means to her on TVOne's Breakfast programme on Thursday 5 June 2010:




In the wake of the Otago University study published by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the beginning of June 2010, the Auckland Women’s Health Council has called for Linda Bryder to apologise to the women and their families who were part of Dr Green’s “unfortunate experiment” in the 1960s and 1970s. 


Last year Professor Linda Bryder published a book on the history of Judge Silvia Cartwright’s judicial review into the cervical cancer research done by Dr Herbert Green at National Women’s Hospital. Bryder claimed that there was no experiment and Judge Cartwright’s findings were wrong because she got drawn into a feminist agenda. The book was dismissive of the experiences of the women involved.


Her book which was funded by a grant of $345,000 from the prestigious Marsden Fund administered by the Royal Society has been widely challenged by academics, medical professionals and women’s health advocates. Otago University vice-chancellor Sir David Skegg took the unprecedented step of adding his voice to the weight of condemnation and described the book as “more like an exercise in polemic rather than academic scholarship.”

Linda Bryder is reputed to be currently writing another book – this one on the history of National Women’s Hospital.



In a feature article in the NZ Herald Chris Barton describes how Linda Bryder's "revisionist book on the 'unfortunate experiment' highlights faiures in our system for ensuring academic accuracy." The article is available at:











About our company
Enter a succinct description of your company here
Contact Us
Enter your company contact details here