Chapter  7: Human Experimentation

Section 1. Case Study


by Tod Ensign and Glenn Alcalay

If you have any lingering thoughts that the government's failure to disclose radiation experimentation on humans was driven by misguided national security concerns, throw them in the nearest nuclear waste dump. At least some officials knew what they were doing was unconscionable and were ducking the consequences and covering their tails. A recently leaked Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) document lays out in the most bare-knuckled manner the policy of coverup. It is desired that no document be released which refers to experiments with humans and might have adverse effect on public opinion or result in legal suits. Documents covering such work field should be classified `secret,' wrote Colonel O.G. Haywood of the AEC. *1 This letter confirms a policy of complete secrecy where human radiation experiments were concerned.

The Haywood letter may help explain a recently discovered 1953 Pentagon document, declassified in 1975. The two-page order from the secretary of defense ostensibly brought U.S. guidelines for human experimentation. in line with the Nuremberg Code, making adherence to a universal standard official U.S. policy. Ironically, however, the Pentagon document was classified and thus was probably not seen by many military researchers until its declassification in 1975.2

As these and a steady stream of similar reports confirm, for decades, the U.S. government had not only used human guinea pigs in radiation experiments, but had also followed a policy of deliberate deception and cover up of its misuse of both civilians and military personnel in nuclear weapons development and radiation research. While the Department of Energy (DoE) has made some belated moves toward greater openness, there are clear indications that other federal agencies and the White House have not yet deviated from the time-honored tradition of deceit and self-serving secrecy.


The Clinton administration's first halting step toward taking responsibility for past government misdeeds occurred on Pearl Harbor Day 1993, when DoE Secretary Hazel O'Leary confirmed that the AEC, her agency's predecessor, had sponsored experiments in which hundreds of Americans were exposed to radioactive material, often without their consent.

That O'Leary had decided to break with her agency's long tradition of secrecy and deception was something of a surprise. After all, she came to the job after a career in the nuclear power industry. But, confronted by a media firestorm over the government's Cold War nuclear experiments, O'Leary was left with few options.

Her decision to confirm some government abuses and reveal others was precipitated by a series of reports by journalist Eileen Welsome in the Albuquerque Tribune last November and the nearly simultaneous release of a Government Accounting Office (GAO) report on radiation releases. *3 Following a six-year investigation, Welsome uncovered details of five experiments in which plutonium was injected into 18 people without their informed consent.

The GAO report, meanwhile, is an important finding that government scientists deliberately released radioactive material into populated areas so that they could study fallout patterns and the rate at which radioactivity decayed. It profiles 13 different releases of radiation from 1948-52. All were part of the U.S. nuclear weapons development program. The report concludes that other planned radioactive releases not documented here may have occurred at ... U.S. nuclear sites during these years. *4 The disclaimer suggests that a good deal of information about radiation experiments remains locked away in government files.

Top DoE aide Dan Reicher pulled O'Leary out of a meeting last November just before the story broke to warn her that People were injected with plutonium back in the 1940s, and there's a newspaper in New Mexico that's about to lay out the whole thing. *5 O'Leary provided information about experiments at major universities, including MIT, the University of Chicago, California, and Vanderbilt. Experimenters exposed about 2,000 Americans to varying degrees of radiation. These numbers may grow as more information about experiments is released.


When O'Leary confirmed the human experiments, she also revealed two other important activities. First, she admitted her agency had secretly conducted 204 underground nuclear tests in Nevada from 1963-1990. These clandestine blasts were in addition to the 800-plus nuclear tests publicly announced during that period. DoE's secrecy may have deceived only Congress and the U.S. public. In 1990, the Soviet Union's minister for atomic energy produced an estimate of U.S. detonations that was very close to the actual number including the secret ones.

O'Leary's other significant disclosure concerned DoE's massive stock of weapons-grade plutonium: 33.5 metric tons of stockpiled plutonium and another 55.5 metric tons deployed in nuclear warheads and for similar uses. *6 This admission calls into question DoE's past claims that national security required the continued operation of unsafe plutonium processing plants to produce unnecessary stockpiles of plutonium.

O'Leary's disclosures about the human experiments have produced a torrent of publicity. Much less attention has been paid to her admissions about secret nuclear tests and plutonium stocks, which have much greater long-term implications for nuclear weapons policy.


O'Leary's promises of full disclosure by DoE aside, *7 one well-placed source within the agency suggested that the Pentagon, NASA and the CIA were just going through the motions. *8 For example, the CIA announced in January 1994 that after searching its files it could locate only one reference to human experimentation with radiation. Former CIA official Scott Breckenridge charged that in 1973, Dr. Sidney Gottlieb, chief of the chemical division of the CIA's Technical Services Division, may have destroyed many secret files, including those on human radiation experiments. *9

The history of partial revelation and near complete inaction is long. In 1975, the Rockefeller Commission first revealed that the CIA may have conducted radiation experiments, *10 but the records if not destroyed have yet to be uncovered. William Colby, CIA director from 1973 to 1975, recently said, I recall the various drug tests, which were scandalous, but nothing about radiation. *11 So far, the institutional memories of the implicated agencies appear to be as conveniently spotty as Colby's.


While officials have dallied, dedicated reporters, angry victims, and a handful of government whistleblowers have exposed a pattern of secrecy and deception. A brief sampling of some of the macabre, secret human experiments uncovered by Welsome and others is chilling.

  • * In 1945, Albert Stevens, a 58-year old California house painter suffering from a huge stomach ulcer, was injected with doses of plutonium 238 and 239 equivalent to 446 times the average lifetime exposure. *12 Doctors recommended an operation and told his children he had only six months to live. For the next year, scientists collected plutonium-laden urine and fecal samples from Stevens and used that data in a classified scientific report, A Comparison of the Metabolism of Plutonium in Man and the Rat. There is little doubt scientists knew of the danger: The problem of chronic plutonium poisoning is a matter of serious concern for those who come in contact with this material, the report concluded.13 AEC officials in 1947 refused to release the information because it contains material, which in the opinion of the [AEC], might adversely affect the national interest. 14

  • * In 1947, doctors injected plutonium into the left leg of Elmer Allen, a 36-year-old African American railroad porter. Three days later, the leg was amputated for a supposed pre-existing bone cancer. Researchers analyzed tissue samples to determine the physiology of plutonium dispersion. *15 In 1973, scientists summoned Allen to the Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago, where he was subjected to a follow-up whole body radiation scan, and his urine was analyzed to ascertain lingering levels of plutonium from the 1947 injection. *16

  • * Beginning in 1949, the Quaker Oats Company, the National Institutes of Health, and the AEC fed minute doses of radioactive materials to boys at the Fernald School for the mentally retarded in Waltham, Massachusetts, to determine if chemicals used in breakfast cereal prevented the body from absorbing iron and calcium. 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. *17

  • * In 1963, 131 prison inmates in Oregon and Washington state were paid about $200 each to be exposed to 600 roentgens of radiation (100 times the allowable annual dose for nuclear workers). They signed consent forms agreeing to submit to X-ray radiation of my scrotum and testes, but were not warned about the possibility of contracting testicular cancer. Doctors later performed vasectomies on the inmates to avoid the possibility of contaminating the general population with irradiation-induced mutants. *18

  • * From 1960-71, in experiments which may have caused the most deaths and spanned the most years, Dr. Eugene Saenger, a radiologist at the University of Cincinnati, exposed 88 cancer patients to whole body radiation. *19 Many of the guinea pigs were poor African-Americans at Cincinnati General Hospital with inoperable tumors. All but one of the 88 patients have since died. *20 There is evidence that scientists forged signatures on the consent forms for the Cincinnati experiments. Gloria Nelson testified before the House that her grandmother, Amelia Jackson, had been strong and still working before she was treated by Dr. Saenger. Following exposure to 100 rads of whole body radiation (about 7,500 chest X-rays), Amelia Jackson bled and vomited for days and became permanently disabled. Jackson testified that the signa- ture on her grandmother's consent form was forged.21


    While researchers were running tests on relatively small numbers of hapless civilians, the military was conducting a series of potentially lethal experiments on a massive scale. From 1946-63, the military ordered more than 200,000 active-duty GIs to observe one or more nuclear bomb tests either in the Pacific or at the Nevada Test Site. The 195,000 GIs who served as part of the occupation force in Hiroshima and Nagasaki may also have suffered the effects of radiation. A vast body of information about nuclear bomb testing and its effects on humans has yet to see the light of day, but some individual accounts are harrowing.

    One atomic veteran, Jim O'Connor, provided a detailed account of the Turk blast at the Nevada test site in March 1955. O'Connor reported seeing someone crawling from a bunker near ground-zero after the blast:

  • "There was a guy with a mannequin look who had apparently crawled behind the bunker. Something like wires were attached to his arms and his face was bloody.
    I smelled an odor like burning flesh. The rotary camera I'd seen [earlier] was going `zoom, zoom, zoom' and the guy kept trying to get up." *22

    At this point, O'Connor fled and was picked up by AEC rad-safety monitors who took him to a hospital where he was treated for radiation overdose. The Defense Nuclear Agency refused to confirm or deny O'Connor's account, although there are reports which refer to a volunteer officer program at several of the test blasts.

    Navy officer R.A. Hinners was another nuclear guinea pig. *23 Only a mile from ground zero, he and seven other volunteers witnessed the detonation of a 55-kiloton bomb (four times the Hiroshima blast) on April 25, 1953. While the Army's report, Exercise Desert Rock VII and VIII, covers the 1957 test series and notes that the observers suffered no adverse effects, the Pentagon has not released any material relating to the use of volunteers at any other tests. *24


    Nuclear researchers did not limit themselves to small groups of selected guinea pigs or large groups of soldiers under orders. The U.S. government also deliberately released radioactive materials into the atmosphere, endangering military personnel and untold numbers of civilians. Unsurprisingly, the people exposed during these tests were not informed.

    In four of these tests at the AEC's facility at Los Alamos, New Mexico, bomb-testers set off conventional explosives to send aloft clouds of radioactive material, including strontium and uranium. When the AEC tracked the clouds across northern New Mexico, it detected some radioactivity 70 miles away. According to a Los Alamos press officer, there may have been as many as 250 other such tests during the same period.25

    Nor was this intentional release the largest. During the December 1949 Green Run test at the Hanford (Washington) Nuclear Reservation, the AEC loosed thousands of curies of radioactive iodine-131 several times the amount released from the 1979 Three Mile Island disaster into the atmosphere simply to test its recently installed radiological monitoring equipment. Passing over Spokane and reaching as far as the California-Oregon border, Green Run irradiated thousands of downwinders, as civilians exposed to the effects of airborne radiation tests are known, and contaminated an enormous swath of cattle grazing and dairy land. *26 A team of epidemiologists is now looking into an epidemic of late-occurring thyroid tumors and other radiogenic disorders among the downwind residents in eastern Washington state.

    The plant's emissions control systems were turned off during the experiment, releasing into the atmosphere almost twice as much radioactive iodine-131 as originally planned. The GAO report notes that the off-site population was not forewarned [nor] made aware of the [test] for several decades. It also notes that although adverse weather patterns kept the radiation from spreading as far as expected, monitoring Air Force planes detected hot clouds over 100 miles northeast of the site. *27


    Even when the government took steps to create the appearance of openness, it was less than candid.

    You are in a very real sense active participants in the Nation's atomic test program, proclaimed a 1955 AEC propaganda booklet widely disseminated to downwind neighbors of the Nevada Test Site. Some of you have been inconvenienced by our test operations, and at times some of you have been exposed to potential risk from flash, blast, or fallout. You have accepted the inconvenience or the risk without fuss, without alarm, and without panic. *28

    The AEC's concern for inconveniences or honesty, however, did not extend to the 4,500 Utah and Nevada sheep who died mysteriously in 1953 after exposure to fallout. The AEC denied any causal connection between the sheep's exposure to radioactive fallout from the 1953 Upshot-Knothole tests and their deaths. *29 In a 1956 trial, Utah and Nevada sheep ranchers lost their lawsuit against the government.

    But years later, Harold Knapp, a former AEC scientist who analyzed the 1953 sheep deaths, challenged the AEC's accounts. The simplest explanation, he told a 1979 congressional committee, of the primary cause of death in the lambing ewes is irradiation of the ewe's gastrointestinal tract by beta particles from all the fission products ingested by the sheep along with open range forage. *30

    In a 1982 retrial, A. Sherman Christensen, the same judge who presided over the 1956 trial, noting that fraud was committed by the U.S. Government when it lied, pressured witnesses, and manipulated the processes of the court, ruled for the ranchers. *31


    U.S. government callousness and deception extended halfway around the world. Another nuclear experiment was underway in the Marshall Islands a de facto strategic colony of the U.S. located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Between 1946 and 1958, the U.S. exploded 67 atomic and hydrogen bombs at Bikini and Enewetok, two Marshall group atolls. Once again, the full impact and consequences of this experiment would not be disclosed for decades, and then only reluctantly.

    The largest and dirtiest of the Marshall Islands blasts was code-named Bravo. At 15 megatons more than 1,000 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb Bravo rained lethal radioactive fallout over thousands of unsuspecting islanders under circumstances which remain mysterious. The people of Rongelap atoll were especially hard-hit. They were evacuated from their home islands two days after Bravo, following the absorption of massive doses of high-level fallout.

    Following the Rongelap evacuation, the AEC considered repatriating the islanders to their home atoll in order to gather vital fallout data. In 1956, Dr. G. Failla, chair of the AEC's Advisory Committee on Biology and Medicine, wrote to AEC head Lewis Strauss: The Advisory Committee hopes that conditions will permit an early accomplishment of the plan [to return the Rongelap people]. The Committee is also of the opinion that here is the opportunity for a useful genetic study of the effects on these people. 32 Three years later, Dr. C.L. Dunham, head of the AEC's Division of Biology and Medicine, reiterated the AEC's interest. Studying the Rongelap victims of the Bravo blast will, he wrote, ... contribute to estimates of long term hazards to human beings and to an evaluation of the recovery period following a single nuclear detonation. *33 Having established the near-perfect longitudinal human radiation experiment in 1954, DoE continues to compile data from their Marshallese subjects.

    It appears that AEC was guilty of both negligently disregarding the well-being of the Marshallese and then lying about its actions. On February 24, 1994, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, convened a hearing on Bravo. Recalling weather data that demonstrated prior knowledge that islanders would receive substantial fallout, and that winds had not unexpectedly shifted, *34 Rep. Miller declared that We have deliberately kept that information from the Marshallese. That clearly constitutes a cover-up. *35


    The record of U.S. government lies, misrepresentation, and cover-ups to support its nuclear research program is incontrovertible, if not yet complete. From the inception of the U.S. nuclear program, government policy has placed military and scientific interests above both the well-being of thousands of people and the truth. And, Secretary O'Leary's evident openness notwithstanding, the government's record in responding to earlier disclosures is not reassuring. When faced with damaging disclosures in the past, the government attempted to stonewall. When that would not suffice, the government only grudgingly responded. A few examples:

  • * In 1980, Congress issued a stinging report, The Forgotten Guinea Pigs, which concluded that the AEC chose to secure, at any cost, the atmospheric nuclear weapons testing program rather than to protect the health and welfare of the residents of the area who lived downwind from the site. *36

  • * In 1982, the New York Times provided evidence that policy-makers foresaw dangers and acted to cover them up. The story included a statement by a former Army medic, Van R. Brandon, of Sacramento, that his medical unit kept two sets of books of radiation readings at the Nevada Test Site during the 1956-57 tests. One set was to show that no one received an [elevated] exposure, Brandon told the paper. The other set of books showed ... the actual reading. That set was brought in a locked briefcase every morning, he recalled. *37 DoE officials simply denied Brandon's allegations, and no further investigation was pursued. *38

  • * In 1986, Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) released a report detailing human radiation experiments that AEC and its successors conducted between the 1940s and the 1970s. Many were designed to measure the effects of radiation on humans, and according to Markey, American citizens thus became nuclear calibration devices for experimenters run amok. 39 The Markey report, American Nuclear Guinea Pigs, described 31 grisly experiments involving 695 people who were captive audiences or populations that some experimenters frighteningly might have considered `expendable.' 40

    When the Reagan administration refused to investigate the disclosures, the Markey report was quickly forgotten. There was a massive public relations relationship that existed between the [Reagan] administration, the defense contractors and experimenters in America, charged Markey, that worked very effectively throughout the 1980s. I'd say something, and I'd get attacked, and it would be a one-day story. *41


    From the beginning of the nuclear age, the federal government not only ignored or suppressed knowledge of abuses in the nuclear experimental program, it also fought all attempts to hold it accountable for damages. A series of Supreme Court decisions dating back to 1950 bars both atomic veterans and downwinders from suing the federal government. *42 Veterans are denied the right to sue for injuries suffered while on active duty because the Court believes that this would interfere with military necessity and national security. *43

    Downwinders have also encountered many obstacles in their long struggle for medical studies and compensation. One group of Utah residents who lived under the fallout during the 1950s and early 1960s finally succeeded in bringing their federal lawsuit to trial in 1982. They scored an important victory when the trial judge found the bomb tests were responsible for their cancers and awarded them damages. *44 But the appeals court reversed this verdict by re-defining the discretionary function exception to the Federal Tort Claims Act to make the government immune from lawsuits of this kind. *45 In essence, the court held that setting off nuclear bombs was within the discretionary power of high-ranking officials and could not be questioned in a lawsuit for damages.

    After the federal appeals court stripped the downwinders of their victory, in 1990, Congress finally stepped in and adopted the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act for downwinders and some groups of uranium miners. Claimants must document residence in the fallout area and that they suffer from one of 13 cancers linked to radia-tion exposure. The program, administered by the Department of Justice, places a ceiling of $50,000 per claim, although many awards were smaller. Justice granted 818 claims out of 1,460 which were submitted as of January 1994.46 In 1988, Congress acted on behalf of atomic veterans, forcing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to establish a limited compensation plan with a $75,000 cap. It provides presumptive disability to veterans who can prove that they suffer from one of a list of 13 cancers (e.g., bone, breast, skin, stomach, thyroid, leukemia, etc.), and that they were present during one or more nuclear test blasts.

    Of more than 15,000 veterans' claims filed as of January 1994, only 1,401 have been approved, indicating that most claimants are unable to qualify under the terms of the program. *47 One problem confronting many veterans is inaccurate or missing military records that omit service at a nuclear test site. *48 Another is to prepare a radiation dose reconstruction that estimates the amount of exposure the veteran received. Many vets have challenged the accuracy of dose estimates prepared by a private contractor, Science Applications International. This privately held research corporation includes among its stockholders Defense Department officials including Secretary William Perry and Deputy Secretary John Deutch, and one-time nominee Bobby Ray Inman. The Defense Department has little to say about potential conflicts of interest. We're going to decline to comment on this. I don't think we would have anything that would be meaningful to say, said Pentagon spokesman Capt. Michael Doubleday. *49

    A final obstacle is that just having cancer isn't enough; veterans must prove they are disabled by it.


    The Clinton administration is about to undergo a test of its own. The key question will be how it defines who will be considered a nuclear test victim for purposes of health research and compensation. Given the decades-long record of coverup and callousness, there is little reason to assume that the recent revelations concerning human experimentation will produce any lasting benefit for the tens of thousands of veterans and civilians harmed by nuclear weapons testing and radiation experiments over the past half century let alone the estimated five million U.S. citizens exposed to dangerous levels of radiation during the Cold War. *

    Early indications are that the White House will stake out a restrictive position. DoE head O'Leary also appears to be seeking some remedy short of compensating all categories of victims. So, apparently, is the GAO.

    The GAO's report on atmospheric radiation releases provides a glimpse of the emerging strategy. In assessing the significance of the Green Run test, the GAO struck a cautious note. The test [was not] intended to be a radiation experiment or a field test of radiobiological effects. [After] examining still classified passages [we] found that they don't refer to any such intentions. *50 This interpretation could provide the basis for a restrictive reading of who is entitled to compensation and follow-up health studies.


    The Clinton administration may also be moving to head off potentially monstrous payouts to victims. To deal with the predicted avalanche of claims, as well as to fend off adverse publicity, the administration has established an advisory committee and an interagency working group to define policy. The advisory committee's mission statement, as well as the backgrounds of some of the people appointed to the panels, give victims cause for skepticism.

    The President's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments is composed of scientists, medical ethicists, and lawyers and is chaired by Dr. Ruth Faden of Johns Hopkins University. The White House announcement stated that its mission is to evaluate the ethical and scientific standards of government sponsored human experiments which involved intentional exposure to ionizing radiation. *51 (emphasis added) When read in conjunction with the GAO report's cautious conclusion, this language appears to sharply limit possible claimants.

    And one of the advisory panel members, Washington, D.C. lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, has credentials that have raised eyebrows. Feinberg played a controversial role in forging an 11th-hour settlement of the class action lawsuit against Agent Orange manufacturers in 1984. Working at the direction of trial judge Jack Weinstein in Brooklyn, New York, Feinberg helped ram through a $180 million settlement. Although the figure seems large, it is grossly inadequate in light of the 250,000 veteran-claimants and the severity of their disabilities. Since the settlement, Judge Weinstein has blocked every subsequent lawsuit against the Agent Orange makers even for veterans whose cancer appeared years after the settlement was reached. *

    The Interagency Working Group has representatives from every federal agency involved in radiation research and also includes a lawyer member whose past clients raise questions about his impartiality. Joel Klein, recently named White House Deputy Legal Counsel, was previously a partner in Klein Farr Smith & Taranto, a Washington, D.C. law firm which represented a number of corporate defendants in cases involving the due process rights of class action members. In 1985, Klein's firm won a Supreme Court decision in Phillips Petroleum v. Shutts, which narrowly interpreted the rights of claimants in class actions. Klein also has a case pending before the Supreme Court, Ticor Title v. Brown, which experts expect will further diminish the rights of injured parties in class action suits.


    It is too early to tell what role either Feinberg or Klein will play in determining compensation for nuclear test victims, but their histories don't lend cause for optimism. And given the administration's efforts at damage control, some advocates of radiation victims are dubious that the recent disclosures will bring any more change than those in the past. Rob Hager, a public interest lawyer in Washington, has been fighting the DoE for years. He has waged an 11-year legal battle on behalf of the widow of Joe Harding, who developed cancer after working at a DoE uranium processing plant in Paducah, Kentucky.

    The DoE's approach to compensation is a scorched earth policy; settle no claims and litigate to the hilt, Hager charges. They've changed their head, but it doesn't seem to be connected to the body. *52 Eileen Welsome agrees. The Albuquerque journalist, who recently won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on this issue, was asked what she learned. She responded, The DoE of today is no different from the DoE of 50 years ago. It's an obstructionist agency; it doesn't follow the law. I think it's an agency that bears careful scrutiny and constant scrutiny. 53




    The still-emerging history of nuclear experimentation raises important issues of medical ethics and calls into question the scientific community's sensitivity to and awareness of these issues. It also raises the question of whether these experimenters, in furthering the Pentagon's military and security demands, violated international standards on human experimentation. Even at this late date, it seems that some scientists involved are unable to see any problems with their behavior. Patricia Durbin, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California who participated in plutonium experiments, recently said:

  • "They were always on the lookout for somebody who had some kind of terminal

    disease who was going to undergo an amputation. 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 a sort of memorial rather than something to be ashamed of. It doesn't

    bother me to talk about the plutonium injectees because of the value of the

    information they provided. *1"

    And Dr. Victor Bond, a medical physicist and doctor at Brookhaven National Laboratory, recently defended the Fernald experiments, in which retarded children were deliberately given radioactive substances in their breakfast cereal. A question arose as to whether chemicals in breakfast cereals interfered with the uptake of iron or calcium in children. An answer was needed, declared Bond. In reference to the entire series of cold war nuclear experiments, Bond offered that It's useful to know what dose of radiation sterilizes; it's useful to know what different doses of radiation will do to human beings. *2

    While Drs. Bond and Durbin rationalized such programs, other scientists have spoken out. Referring to the Cincinnati experiments in which 88 cancer patients were exposed to massive whole body doses of radiation, Dr. David Egilman, a former Cincinnati faculty member, said, The study was designed to test the effects of radiation on soldiers. It was known that whole-body radiation wouldn't treat the patients' cancer. What happened was one of the worst things this government has done to its citizens. *3 And 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 Buchenwald touch. *4

    THE BUCHENWALD TOUCH is not limited to Cold War-related experiments. In what has come to be known as the Tuskegee Study, 412 African American sharecroppers suffering from syphillis were rounded up in Tuskegee, Alabama, in the early 1930s. For forty years, the men were never told what had stricken them while doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service observed the ravages of the disease, from blindness and paralysis to dementia and early death. Even after penicillin proved to be an effective treatment for syphilis, they were left untreated. *5

    Nor are such experiments a thing of the past. Recent congressional hearings revealed studies on schizophrenia in the late 1980s where doctors intentionally worsened patients' symptoms, causing relapses and leading to the death by suicide of at least one of the patients. Dr. Michael Davidson, who led a study at the VA Hospital in the Bronx, defended the study, saying, it would not be advisable to [warn] the patients about psychosis or relapse. *6


    Resources on Experiments Performed by the Atomic Energy Commission and the Department of Defense

	William Sweet
    Dr. William Sweet, Massachusetts General Hospital, a researcher with the Boston Project Uranium Injections

    General Resources from the Department of Energy

    DOE Resources on Human Radiation Experiments

    Government Documents

    Searchable Databases

    Specific Experiments

    The Vanderbilt Study

    Between 1945-1949, 820 poor pregnant Caucasian women were given tracer doses of radioactive iron in experiments performed at Vanderbilt University. Office of Human Radiation Experiments Oral Histories of Dr. Karl Z. Morgan and Waldo E. Cohn provide background on this experiment. See also Chapter 7 Conclusion of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments Final Report.

    Fernald State School

    Other Sources


    Return to Case Presentations by clicking here> section.

    Copyright Philip A. Pecorino 2002. All Rights reserved.

    Web Surfer's Caveat: These are class notes, intended to comment on readings and amplify class discussion. They should be read as such. They are not intended for publication or general distribution.

    Return to:                 Table of Contents for the Online Textbook