In an attempt to justify their own activities, some of the German
doctors on trial at Nuremberg cited American experiments as part of their
A Few Good Mengeles
One Nazi doctor cited
in his defense the work of American Colonel Dr.
Richard P. Strong later Professor of Tropical Medicine at Harvard who
infected Philippine convicts with cholera and the bubonic plague, killing 18
people. Survivors were compensated with cigars and cigarettes.
A Dachau doc referred
to the work of public health official Dr. Goldberger,
who in 1915 produced the disease pellegra in Mississippi convicts. One test
subject said that he had been through, "a thousand hells," and another swore
he would choose a lifetime of hard labor rather than go through such an
Also cited were a series
of experiments conducted in 1944 in a Chicago
prison where 441 convicts were infected with malaria. British Medical Journal
commentary: "One of the nicest American scientists I know was heard to say:
'Criminals in our penitentiaries are fine experimental material and much
cheaper than chimpanzees."
Some American experiments
on prisoners were not mentioned at
Nuremburg. For example, a doctor in the California prison system spent four
years transplanting testicles from recently executed convicts into senile men. By
1920, he had improved on the technique, implanting pieces of goat testicle "the
size of a silver dollar" into the scrotums or abdominal walls of inmates.
of these experiments used convicts. The Germans
used the same
excuse. From Nazi Doctors: "Time and again, the doctors who froze screaming
subjects to death, watched their brains explode as a result of rapid
compression... stated that only prisoners condemned to death were used."
Acres of Skin
the Nazi experiments were stopped, there was tremendous
expansion in prison experimentation in postwar America. The world now had
the Nuremberg Code though, whose first principle precluded the use of
prisoners. The American medical community either claimed ignorance of the
document or ignored it.
Federal prisoners, for example, were enlisted in a broad range
of clinical studies that included... hepatitis, syphilis, and amebic
dysentery, and additional malaria experiments. State prisoners
were considered to be equally valuable and were soon utilized for
studies of... flash burns 'which might result from atomic bomb
The Ohio state prison system, for example, allowed
researchers from the Sloan Kettering Institute... to inject at least
396 inmates at the Ohio State Prison with live cancer cells so
researchers could study the progression of the disease. Between
1963 and 1971, radioactive thymidine, a genetic compound, was
injected into the testicles of more than one hundred prisoners at the
Oregon State Penitentiary to see whether the rate of sperm
production was affected by exposure to steroid hormones.
Emeritus of Dermatology Albert Kligman multi-millionaire
inventor of Retin-A - was paid by the Dow Chemical Company to test the
effects of dioxin on human subjects. Kligman applied the most powerful known
carcinogen to the skin of 70 prisoners. In 1966, Kligman said to a reporter -
speaking of his access to Holmesburg prisoners - "All I saw before me were
acres of skin.... It was an anthropoid colony... which wasn't going anywhere....
I was like a farmer seeing fertile field for the first time"
At a California medical facility between 1967 and 1968,
prisoners were paralyzed with succinylcholine, a neuromuscular
compound. Because their breathing capacity was shut down, many
likened the experience to drowning. When five of the sixty-four
prisoners refused to participate in the experiment, the institution's
special treatment board gave 'permission' for prisoners to be
injected against their will. Experi-ments on prisoners openly
continued until 1976.
First, Do No Harm
The landmark article
on human experimentation was written by Harry
Beecher. It was rejected by JAMA, but picked up by the New England Journal
of Medicine. It created a furor both inside and outside the medical
profession. He described a sampling of experiments he gleaned from the
medical literature at the time detailing prestigious scientists egregiously
violating Nuremburg principles.
Dr. Alf Alving of the University of Chicago under [a
government grant]... purposely infected [Illinois State Hospital
psychotic, back-ward patients] with malaria through blood
transfusions and then gave them experimental antimalarial
Dr. Saul Krugman purposefully infected retarded children
with hepatitis. He became the chairman of pediatrics at New York
University and won the Lasker prize (the American equivalent of
Dr. Chester Southam injected cancer cells into elderly and senile patients.
The subjects were merely told they would be receiving "some cells," the word
cancer was entirely omitted. Dr. Chester Southam was elected president of
the American Association for Cancer Research.
This Won't Hurt a Bit
The list goes on. In
1963, the United States Public Health Service, the
American Cancer Society, and the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital of
Brooklyn, participated in an experiment in which physicians injected live
cancer cells into twenty-two chronically ill and debilitated African American
patients. The patients did not consent, nor were they aware that they were
being injected with cancer.
the 1970s, the government collected blood samples from seven
thousand Black youths. Parents were told that their children were being tested
for anemia, but instead, the government was looking for signs that the children
were genetically predisposed to criminal activity.
least eighty-two "charity" patients were exposed to full-body radiation
at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The patients were exposed to
radiation ten times the level believed to be safe at the time twenty-five patients
died. Three-quarters of the patients in the study were Black men and women.
The consent signatures were forged.
Loretta Bender, president
of the Society of Biological Psychiatry: "In the
children's unit of Creedmore State Hospital with a resident population of 450
patients, ages 4 to 15, we have investigated the responses of some of these
children to lysergic acid [LSD] and related drugs in the psychiatric,
psychological, and biochemical areas."
In 1977, a Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy was
convened to investigate the CIA's testing of LSD on unwitting citizens. Frank
Olsen was one such citizen. After drinking punch the CIA spiked with LSD,
Olsen became terribly frightened of cars, thinking they were monsters out to
get him. Before the CIA could make arrangements to treat him, Olsen checked
into a hotel and threw himself out of his tenth story room.
there was the CIA's "Operation Midnight Climax." Taxpayer dollars
at work hiring prostitutes to lure men from bars back to safehouses after their
drinks had been spiked with LSD. Captain George Hunter White, who headed
many of these experiments, wrote to the head of the CIA's Technical Services
Staff upon leaving government service in 1966:
I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled
wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun....
Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal,
rape and pillage with the sanction and blessings of the
A Glowing Report
On November 19,1996,
the Secretary of Energy announced that a $4.8
million settlement will be paid to the families of 12 people injected with
radioactive materials during the Cold War period. The official "Report of
the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments" was published in
JAMA. The committee found, "serious deficiencies in the current system of
protections for human subjects...."
Unlucky charms. Beginning in 1949, the Quaker
Oats company, the
National Institutes of Health, and the Atomic Energy Commission fed minute
doses of radioactive materials to boys at the Fernald School for the mentally
retarded in Waltham, Massachusetts via breakfast cereal. The unwitting
subjects were told that they were joining a science club. The consent form sent
to the boys' parents made no mention of the radiation experiment. Tricks
are for kids.
The Advisory Committee reserved its harshest criticism for
those cases in which physicians used patients without their consent
as subjects in research from which the patients could not possibly
benefit medically. These cases included a series of experiments in
which 18 patients, some but not all of whom were terminally ill,
were injected with plutonium at... the University of Chicago and
the University of California, San Francisco, as well as 2
experiments in which seriously ill patients were injected with
uranium, 6 at the University of Rochester and 11 at Massachusetts
General Hospital, Boston.
Ebb Cabe, for example, a 53-year-old "colored male" who was
hospitalized following an auto accident but was other wise in good health, was
injected with plutonium. A lawyer for the plaintiffs in ensuing suits said
that the scientists, "had a code word for plutonium in the medical records, so
people couldn't figure out that these people were injected."
Very Poor Effect
We are lucky to know
this much. A recently leaked Atomic Energy
Commission (AEC) document: "It is desired that no document be released
which refers to experiments on humans and might have an adverse effect on
public opinion or resulting legal suits." Government for the people, by the
When the AEC considered declassifying some of these
research reports, its declassification officer concluded that such a
step was unthinkable: 'The document appears to be most
dangerous since it describes experiments performed on human
subjects, including the actual injection of plutonium into the
body.... The coldly scientific manner in which the results are
tabulated and discussed would have a very poor effect on the
A Sort of Memorial
When confronted, what
do the researchers who participated in these
experiments have to say for themselves?
Patricia Durbin, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore
Laboratory in California who participated in plutonium
experiments, recently said: 'These things were not done to plague
people or make them sick and miserable. They were not done to kill
people. They were done to gain potentially valuable information.
The fact that they were injected and provided this valuable data
should almost be sort of a memorial rather than something to be
ashamed of. It doesn't bother me to talk about the plutonium
injections because of the value of the information they provided.'
Other doctors speak
to other memorials. Dr. Joseph Hamilton, a
neurologist at the University of California hospital in San Francisco, referred to
his own human radiation experiments in the 1940s as having, "a little of the
Special Free Treatment
No discussion would
be complete without mention of Tuskegee. On
16, 1997, President Bill Clinton apologized in a White House ceremony for the
Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the 40-year government study in which 399 Black
men from Macon County, Alabama were deliberately denied effective
treatment for syphilis. In fact, the United States Public Health Service went to
extreme lengths to ensure that they would not receive any treatment, in their
words, "in order to document the natural history of the disease."
The Public Health Service leaders' excuse was that with the advent of
antibiotics, no one would ever again be able to trace the long term effects of the
disease. The press reported that as of 1969, at least 28 and perhaps as
many as 100 men had died as a direct result of complications caused by
syphilis. The women these men passed the disease to are rarely
The physicians conducting
the study deceived the men, telling them they
were being treated for "bad blood." The men were informed that the lumbar
punctures were therapeutic, not diagnostic. The regular spinal taps were
described as, "special free treatment."
From Perspectives in Medical Sociology:
The Los Angeles Times... editors qualified their accusation
that Public Health Service officials had persuaded hundreds of
black men to become 'human guinea pigs' by adding: 'Well,
perhaps not quite that, because the doctors obviously did not regard
their subjects as completely human.'
As late as 1969, a
committee from the Centers for Disease Control
examined the study and decided to continue it. As one of the longest medical
studies in history, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study continued until 1976 despite
having been openly discussed in conferences at professional meetings. As
described in Perspectives in Medical Sociology, "It continued despite more than
a dozen articles appearing in some of the nation's best medical journals, which
described the study to a combined readership of well over a hundred thousand
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