As a gesture of expiation for the 1953 death of the civilian mental patient in an Army drug experiment, the Justice Department is considering the possibility of a public apology by President Carter and a payment of approximately $1 million to the victim's survivors.
Reliable sources said yesterday that the possibility of such a settlement was discussed at a meeting last week between the daughter of Harold Blauer, the victim, and department officials including Assistant Attorney General Barbara A. Babcock, who heads of Civil Division.
The sources said that Blauer's daughter, Elizabeth Barrett, outlined the conditions under which she would drop two suits seeking damages of $96 million from the government. Department officials, the sources added, made no commitments, but promised to explore the possibilities of an out-of-court settlement acceptable to Barrett.
The sources said Barrett also asked for a full disclosure, including names, of the federal government's role in her father's death. Such disclosure could shed further light on the role of Chief Justice Warren E. Burger.
As an assistant attorney general in the mid-1950s, Burger apparently signed three letters approving a plan to disguise the Army's involvement in Blauer's death.Burger recently said through a spokesman that he has no recollection of the matter. There also are questions about whether Burger was aware in the 1950s of the circumstances of the case.
Blauer, a 42-year-old New York tennis professional, died in January, 1953 while being treated for depression at the New York State Psychiatric Institute. In August 1975, the Army formally acknowledged that he died after being given injections of a mescaline derivative that the hospital was testing for the Army.
In September, 1975, the Army, without specifically mentioning the Blauer case, admitted that it apparently had violated military guidelines, professional medical ethics and safety procedures in a number of its drug experiments between 1953 and 1969. Barrett then sued the government for wrongful death and deprivation of civil rights on behalf of herself and a sister.
Earlier, in 1955, Blauer's widow, Amy, who has since died, accepted an $18,000 out-of-court settlement from the state of New York. Half of that was secretly paid by the Army under an arrangement worked out by the Justice Department's Civil Division, then headed by Burger.
These facts were recently brought to light by Rolling Stone magazine and other publications. As a result of the publicity, the sources said, the case came under new review in the Justice Department.
The sources stressed that no determinations have been made within the department about any admission of liability by the government. However, the sources said, many department officials, among them Babcock and Patricia M. Wald, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, reportedly have concluded that an injustice was done and that some corrective action is required.