Chapter 7 : Human Experimentation

Section 1. Case Presentation

CASE : Africa, Third World Countries and Experimentation

In 1995 the National Institute of Health and the Center for Disease Control sponsored clinical trials of medication to reduce the spread of the HIV.  They sponsored experiments to determine an effective and least expensive treatment to prevent the spread of the HIV to newborns.  The studies involved women in Africa, the Dominic Republic and Thailand.  The women were not treated with medications known to be effective.  Many children were born with HIV who might not have had that virus if the mothers were given the effective medications.

Issues: Standard of Care , Placebo, Informed Consent

READ:   HIV Drug Testing and Denial of Effective Drugs and HIV babies


CASE: Cold War Radiation Exposure Experiments

Experiments were done on human beings without their knowing about it or without being fully informed.  Some of the subjects of these experiments were very young children.  Read about the range of experiments and the government investigations and the new criteria and guidelines for such studies.

At the University of Cincinnati patients who being treated for cancer were given massive doses of radiation. The Cincinnati Project told the patients that they were being treated for their cancer, when in fact the experiments were funded by the Military. The Military was interested in discovering how much radiation a person can absorb and still remain functional.
At Vanderbilt University in the late 1940's, eight hundred pregnant women were exposed to radiation to determine the effects of radiation on fetal development.
At the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, two hundred cancer patients were exposed to high levels of radiation. The experiments continued up until 1972 when the Atomic Energy Commission discontinued them on the grounds that there was little or no benefit to the patient.
In an Oregon State Prison the testicles of inmates were exposed to X rays to determine the effects of radiation on sperm production from 1963 to 1971. The inmates were never told that the exposure to massive doses of radiation can cause cancer.
During the late 1950's twelve terminally ill cancer patients at Columbia University and Montefiore Hospital were injected with radioactive calcium and strontium 85 to determine the absorption rate of radioactive substances into a variety of tissues and organs.
From 1946 to 1956 nineteen mentally retarded teenaged boys were fed radioactive iron and calcium in their breakfast cereal. The experiment took place at a state residential school in Fernald, Massachusetts. Parent's consent form contained no mention of radiation. The stated aim of the research was to gain information about metabolism.

READ:   U.S. RADIATION TESTING ON HUMANS    by Tod Ensign and Glenn Alcalay

Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments


CASE:  Willowbrook Hepatitis Experiments

Researchers deliberately infected very young children with Hepatitis, a disease affecting the liver.  Cases of this disease can range from mild flu like symptoms to permanent liver damage.  The children were in a state institution in New York for the mentally retarded.

Child Research: Hepatitis Experiments at Willowbrook -CASE PRESENTATION- Summary,James Rowe, QCC, 2005

            Willowbrook State School, located in Staten Island, is a school for retarded children, which in 1956, agreed to participate in a research experiment to determine the course of the hepatitis virus and whether or not gamma globulin (a protein complex which contains antigens to provoke the body to produce antibodies) could be used to inoculate children against the virus. Lead by Saul Krugman and Joan P Giles of the New York School of Medicine, Willowbrook was chosen due to the endemic nature of hepatitis at the institution, where practically all children would come down with the ailment before their first year was up. The experiment would consist of serum samples collected from the children before infection, during the incubation period, and after the infection was cured, and overall, seven hundred of the students were participated, after obtaining consent from the families which exceeded the standards of what was mandatory and was validated by many recognized institutions. Where no consent was given, there is no record of any child being subjected to the experiment. Moral quandaries, however, do arise when one considers that the research included the purposeful infection of several incoming students with the virus, justified on the grounds that they could go to extra lengths to protect the children purposefully infected, that hepatitis was mild in ages three-ten years of age (those who were purposefully infected), that the infection type was chosen to be milder than normal yet still protect the children against harsher forms, and that it was inevitable that these children would get the disease anyway, it having been virtually impossible not to. Further issues of ethical concern have been raised due to the fact that it was children who were part of the study, with many contending that only therapeutic, and not scientific, medical experiments ought to use children, whilst others contend that parents were blackmailed into consenting.

Issues: Informed Consent, Information, Coercion

READ: Hepatitis at the Willowbrook State School in Staten Island New York


CASE:  New York State Psychiatric Institute- 1993-1996 violent males and fenfluramine

Criminal Neurotransmitter Studies and Children-CASE PRESENTATION- Summary,James Rowe, QCC, 2005

In 1993 and 1998, three experiments at the New York State Psychiatric Institute were conducted on nearly one hundred boys aged 6-11, all from New York City, many Black or Hispanic, who shared an older sibling being legally charged with a delinquent behavior. These boys were further selected via court records and interviewing both mother and child to determine boys who had experienced “adverse rearing practices”. In exchange for consent, the mothers were given $125 dollars upon going to the aforementioned institute and allowing their children to be injected with a small amount of the drug fenfluramine, after which they’d be given a blood test to determine whether or not the level of neurotransmitters fluctuated in order to see if there might be a link betwixt neurochemical markers and violent behavior. Those opposed to this experiment have brought up three main points, namely, that the drug was unsafe due to its usage in the diet-pill “fen-phen” which was taken off the market after heart-valve damage was discovered to occur in some users, that it was racist due to the majority of Blacks and Hispanics, and that the mother may have essentially been bribed due to her generally low-income situation. Supports counter that the dosage was miniscule, given once, and that there is no reason to suggest that it was unsafe at those levels, that race was not an issue, and that the mother was not bribed at all.

READ:  fenfluramine


CASE:  Baby Fae 1984

A transplant of a baboon heart into a newborn child.  The case raised many issues.  Was it an experiment or therapy ?  Was it the only measure available to save the baby?

READ:  Case of Baby Fae


CASE:  Use of Morally Tainted Information (Nazi Data)

 Nazis and Medicine -CASE PRESENTATION- Summary,James Rowe, QCC, 2005

            Pernkopf Anatomy, a nearly universally esteemed book on the subject of anatomy, has become a matter of controversy due to the Nazi-connections of its authors and that there is a possibility, although unverified, that the cadavers were taken from Holocaust victims. In November 1996, a letter was written to The Journal of the American Medical Association, which even asked that the University of Vienna make some attempt to determine the sources of the cadavers. Written by Howard A. Israel and William E. Seidelman, the letter brought to the forefront a pressing issue of modern medical ethics, namely, whether or not the source of the information, be it moral or immoral, ought to be considered. Views vary, with one camp saying that it is tantamount to sanctioning evil acts to allow for morally tainted information to be used, whilst others assert that to waste medical research is to take no good from a potentially horrible situation, and thus to essentially assure that the victims suffered and died in vain.

READ:  Nazi Data: Dr. Mengele

READ:  Unapproved Treatment and an F.D.A. Warning Ellen GablerSteve Eder and Allie Pitchon  Sept. 20, 2023  A product made from umbilical cord blood was used in spine surgeries at a Manhattan hospital. After a federal warning came an internal complaint: Patients should have been told.



Case:  Use of Prisoners

READ:  Cheaper than Chimpanzees: Expanding the Use of Prisoners in Medical Experiments  at

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© Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights reserved.

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