Guinea pigs go to court

Report: Health and work
The use of epidemiology in two cases of industrial disease in Taiwan
By Paul Jobin

This article describes the first two major cases of industrial disease brought to justice in Taiwan. The first case is located in the north of the island near Taipei. More than a thousand women are suffering from various sorts of cancer. They had been exposed to a wide range of organic solvents and other toxics when they were working for the US manufacturer of television sets, RCA. The defendants in this trial are the current and former business owners, General Electric and Thomson. The second case occurred near Tainan, in the south of the island, where the largest concentrations of dioxin in the world had been left by a former chemical plant. In both cases, the plaintiffs thought that they were being used as guinea pigs for the sake of science, but without benefiting from its results. They received important support from an original citizen mobilization and a network of lawyers. Although the hearings have just begun, the controversy and the speeches of the actors suggest that scientific uncertainty cannot but generate various forms of compromises, between “perhaps” and “probable”, epidemiology and toxicology, humans and animals, and thus, all sorts of possibilities for a legal decision or a policy.


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