According to Conover, Skloot, in her book, addresses the gigantic issues of medical experiments as to “who owns our bodies, the use and misuse of medical authority, the unhealed wounds of slavery” (qtd in Skloot 2). Skloot addresses story in the history of the United State’s medical field whose past is clouded by a dark history of human medical experimentations. The dark history in western medicine shows a record of horrifying events of medical experiment carried out on patients. Unfortunately, many of such experiments have been performed on children, impoverished people, and other marginalized vulnerable groups. As if that is not enough, the experiments were undertaken on the patients with neither their knowledge nor informed consent. Dani Veracity is a prominent journalist who researches issues of human medical experiments, In a article on Natural New’s website, Veracity explains that hman medical experiments are propelled by efforts to seek profits through research on drugs and other medical technologies. Sadly, there are beliefs and reports that these medical experiments continue to be performed on the United States’ population and its children. There are different types of experiments that can be undertaken on humans; they include chemical and biological warfare experiments, radiation experiments, injection of chemicals or elements, surgical experiments, torture experiments, and mind-manipulating experiments. This paper takes a look into the history of human medical experiments, the afflicted parties and aggressors, and the reason for their courses of action. It illustrates that human medical experiments are inhumane and unjustifiable if done without the knowledge and informed consent of patients.
Human medical experiments carry both sides of a coin, while they may result in a breakthrough to resolve the treatment of a disease; they also pose the lethal risks and can be excruciatingly painful. Medical breakthroughs from such practices have come attached with a huge price tag. This is in the effects both physical and emotional that are inflicted on the subjects. Human medical experiments are or have been guided by the fight for supremacy in the world driven by the world powers. It is also caused by the huge profits in the pharmaceutical industry.
Human medical experimentation dates back to the 1880s, in 1883, Dr. William Beaumont, serving as a military physician and surgeon came up with the Beaumont’s Code after a study into gastric medicine. The experiment performed on patients required that they stay with gunshot wounds that were left permanently open. Between 1845- 149, the supposed founder of gynecology, J. Marion Sims, performed related experiments on African women slaves without anesthesia. Many of them died out of infection after the surgery. In 1895, a pediatrician, Henry Heinemann infected a 4-year old boy with gonorrhea for purposes of experimentation. In another incident in 1896, Dr. Arthur Wentworth turned 29 children into guinea pigs at a Boston Children’s hospital by carrying out spinal taps (Sharav 1).
The 20th century saw a staggering increase in the number of inhumane human experiments. This was the century when many breakthroughs in medicine were made. Also the era when the medical industry was expanded to a scale that had never been seen before. A few highlights of the experiments will be covered in this paper. Veracity presents that in a shocking event in the history of human medical experiments, Dr. Walter Reed went to Cuba in 1900 in an expedition to seek to know if yellow fever can be contracted via mosquito bites. While he informed the subjects of the potential of death, he exploited their poverty by offering $100 in form of gold for anyone accepting to participate in the experiment and a further $100 for anyone who contracts the lethal Yellow fever. When did human life be attached to $100 or even $200?
At the start of the second decade of the 21st century, in another monstrous human medicine experiment, Dr. Hideyo Noguchi published data reporting that he had injected inactive syphilis preparations into 146 children’s skins. He worked at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. He was later sued in 1913 for infecting innocent children with syphilis. In the same decade, several human experiment incidents were reported one on tuberculin that caused permanent blindness in 15 children in St. Vincent’s House, Philadelphia (Sharav 1).
The period between 1919 and 1922 saw research undertaken on San Quentin Prisoner as regards testicular implants in California. This involved implanting testicles of dead goats or dead inmates into living inmates. One of the longest running human medicine experiments, lasting from 1932 to 1972 was what came to be called the Tuskegee syphilis experiment where about 400 African American sharecroppers were used as guinea pigs to observe the symptoms and disease progression (Thomas & Curran 1-4). Despite having knowledge of their illness, the researchers observed these men deteriorate and die from the disease. For, 40 years the researchers observed, knowingly and without informing their families, men demise (Skloot 56).
According to Alliance for Human Research Protection, in 1939 pathologist Dr. Wendell Johnson undertook a study to the cause of stuttering, in what is termed as the Monster experiment, by subjecting ‘orphans’ of Iowan Soldiers to intense pressure. In 1941, AHRP reports two human medical experiments, one involving infection of a 12-month old baby with herpes by Dr. William C. Black and involving using oral swabs to infect healthy children with gum disease. The period between 1942 and 1946 was also marked by numerous human medical experiments carried out on malaria, chemical and biological warfare, hepatitis and compounds such as radium, plutonium, and arsenic. With the presentday scientific knowledge, some of the elements on which the human medical experiments were based have been found to be carcinogenic, one such element is arsenic (Sharav 1).
The 1940s were marked by the infamous the Manhattan project, one of the greatest perpetrators of human medical experiment atrocities as it is the project that saw the development of the first atomic bomb. The researchers, led by Safford Warren, injected injected inmates, soldiers and civilians with plutonium to evelauate its effects on the human body. The project also studied the effect of fluoride on the central nervous system. The human medical experiments that occurred in this period were inspired and supported by government agencies. For instance, there was the granting of immunity and new identities to ex-Nazi scientist by the CIA in the so-called operation Paperclip, this was in exchange for government information (Sharav 1). Such information was used to propel projects such as the Manhattan Project.
The 1950s showed continued government funded and propagated human medical treatments that saw the exposure of soldiers to nuclear like environment in the Operation 'Plumbob' in 1957. The Nuremberg trials of 1945-46 brought to book the Nazi war Criminals in Germany, this raise the need for protection of human rights as regards to experiments in the medical field. After the Doctor’s trial on German doctors who had carried out experiments on people, the Nuremberg code was established to curtail future attempts at human experimentation. It also highlighted the need for enforcement of ethics. Despite being done afar, the trials cautioned American medical researchers (Taylor 12). One of the most renowned human medical experiments in the 1960s was the Milgram’s experiment carried out to explain the effect of authority of one’s actions.
The 1970s marked the reversal of the human medical experiments as President Nixon had stopped the bio warfare operations. Positive steps were made including the Belmont Report (1978) which stipulated the rules and regulations that needed to be adhered to in medical and other biological researches. The report highlighted the need for informed conscience and a distinction between research and practice. (Skloot, 301). In addition to the publication, the decade saw the increase in a rise awareness of the existence of human medical experiments and reports such as the publication and condemnation of the Tuskegee Syphilis study.
The crucial story covered by Skloot, and on which this paper is based, is that of Henrietta Lacks who was a victim of human medical experimentation. The author highlights one of history’s saddest incidence of huma medical experiments. Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed of cervical cancer in 1951. During her examination at John Hopkins Hospital, cells were drawn from her and used, with neither her knowledge nor her consent. Referred to as Helga, they formed the first line of immortal cells applied in medical research and development of vaccines, gene mapping, and cloning among many functions. Her family was not told of this despite vaccines derived from her making billions of money in vaccines (Skloot 300).
It is shocking the even today Henrietta’s family line still cannot afford access to health insurance. Skloot thighlights the facts about human medical experiments in 1950s where she reveals that lacks was to realise later that she could not bear children, these are the facts that she was not told in advance. In the book, Skloot delves into a research of the life of Henrietta Lacks and that of her family. She reveals that Henrietta’s children deserved a better life than they had since their mother had been subjected to procedures of huan experimentation whose compensation would run into billions of dollars. Instead, her children were subjected to a life of inquiry into the story of their mother’s cells. As Skloot (57) highlights, Patillo, Henrietta’s husband provided her with links to Deborah the only surviving one of Henritta’s children. Patillo raises concerns that Deborah has undergone a life of agony inquiring into Henritta lack’s cells.
Skloot’s book particularly depicts the regard that doctors did not have for their patients. This is shownwhen the assistant to Dr. Goerge Grey did not know they were extracting cells from a human body until she encountered chipped nail polish. In Chapter 17 of the book, Skloot covers the research that was undertaken on HeLa cells by virologist by the name of Chester Southam who injected over 600 people with the cancer cells (Skloot 127). Chester Sotham was later prosecuted and chare with carrying out experiments on human beings without their consent. Chester Southam’s story further asserts the sadness, grimness and animosity behind human medical experiments.
In conclusion, human medical experiments are against the human rights of a patient or population if they are done without their knowledge. Even with their knowledge, it is important that they know clearly the implications of a botched experiment. This paper presents the role of political and scientific superiorities that have left human being at the altar of research. Such practices are unethical and should be condemned for the implications cause misery and suffering to members of the human race.
The Belmont Report: Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research. Bethesda, Md.: The Commission, 1978. Print.
Dyer, John. (2001, June 11). “Monster Experiment taught orphans to stutter.” Alliance for Human Research Protection - About the Alliance for Human Research Protection. Retrieved November 17, 2012, from
Sharav, Vera. "A Chronology of Human Research - Vera Sharav." Alliance for Human Research Protection - About the Alliance for Human Research Protection. n.p., n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.
Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown Publishers, 2010. Print.
Taylor, Telford. "The Nuremberg Trials." Columbia Law Review. 55.4 (1955). Print.
Thomas, S B, and J W. Curran. "Tuskegee: From Science to Conspiracy to Metaphor. “American Journal of the Medical Sciences. 317.1 (1999): 1-4. Print.
Veracity, Dani. “Human medical experimentation in the United States: The shocking true history of modern medicine and psychiatry (1833-1965).” Natural Health News. n.p., 3 June 2012. Web. 19 Nov. 2012.