How We Sold Our Soul–The Exploitation of the Vulnerable

The Articles in the Category cover a vast range of history not only in our country but in the world as well. The category is entitled “How We Sold Our Soul”. In many cases our history has hinged on compromises being made by the powers at be. They say hind-sight is 20/20, which is why I am discussing these land mark decisions in this manner. The people that made these decisions in many cases thought they were doing the right thing. However in some instances they were made for expediency and little thought was given to the moral ramifications and the fallout that would result from them. I hope you enjoy these articles. The initial plan is to discuss 10 compromises, but as time progresses I am sure that number will increase.

While I have covered a few incidences of where we abused the innocent people of the world in detail, this article will be overview of the many cases that this took place. I am doing this to show that they were not just isolated cases, but that they occur all too frequently. When has common decency taken second place to power and the gain of lucre? It appears that the more advanced our society has become the more cold and ruthless we have become. Life and keeping one’s word has little meaning in today’s world.

Unethical human experimentation is human experimentation that violates the principles of medical ethics. Such practices have included denying patients the right to informed consent, using pseudoscientific frameworks such as race science, and torturing people under the guise of research. Around World War IIImperial Japan and Nazi Germany carried out brutal experiments on prisoners and civilians through groups like Unit 731 or individuals like Josef Mengele; the Nuremberg Code was developed after the war in response to the Nazi experiments. Countries have carried out brutal experiments on marginalized populations. Examples include American abuses during Project MKUltra and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, and the mistreatment of indigenous populations in Canada and Australia. The Declaration of Helsinki, developed by the World Medical Association (WMA), is widely regarded as the cornerstone document on human research ethics.

Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany performed human experimentation on large numbers of prisoners (including children), largely Jews from across Europe, but also RomaniSintiethnic PolesSoviet prisoners of war, homosexuals and disabled Germans, in its concentration camps mainly in the early 1940s, during World War II and the Holocaust. Prisoners were forced into participating; they did not willingly volunteer and no consent was given for the procedures. Typically, the experiments resulted in deathtraumaillness, shortening of life, disfigurement, or permanent disability, and as such are considered as examples of medical torture since the participants had to endure mass amounts of pain.

At Auschwitz and other German camps, under the direction of Eduard Wirths, selected inmates were subjected to various hazardous experiments that were designed to help German military personnel in combat situations, develop new weapons, aid in the recovery of military personnel who had been injured, and to advance the racial ideology backed by the Third Reich. Aribert Heim conducted similar medical experiments at MauthausenCarl Værnet is known to have conducted experiments on homosexual prisoners in attempts to “cure” homosexuality.

After the war, these crimes were tried at what became known as the Doctors’ Trial, and the abuses perpetrated led to the development of the Nuremberg Code of medical ethics. During the Nuremberg Trials, 23 Nazi doctors and scientists were tried for the unethical treatment of concentration camp inmates, who were often used as research subjects with fatal consequences. Of those 23, 16 were convicted (15 were convicted for the unethical treatment, while one of them was only convicted of SS membership), 7 were condemned to death, 9 received prison sentences from 10 years to life, and 7 were acquitted.

Before World War II

The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Defective Progeny, passed on 14 July 1933, legalized the involuntary sterilization of persons with diseases claimed to be hereditary: weak-mindedness, schizophrenia, alcohol abuse, insanity, blindness, deafness, and physical deformities. The law was used to encourage growth of the Aryan race through the sterilization of persons who fell under the quota of being genetically defective. 1% of citizens between the age of 17 to 24 had been sterilized within two years of the law passing. Within four years, 300,000 patients had been sterilized. From about March 1941 to about January 1945, sterilization experiments were conducted at Auschwitz, Ravensbrück, and other places by Carl Clauberg. The purpose of these experiments was to develop a method of sterilization which would be suitable for sterilizing millions of people with a minimum of time and effort. These experiments were conducted by means of X-ray, surgery and various drugs. Thousands of victims were sterilized. Aside from its experimentation, the Nazi government sterilized around 400,000 people as part of its compulsory sterilization program. Intravenous injections of solutions speculated to contain iodine and silver nitrate were successful, but had unwanted side effects such as vaginal bleeding, severe abdominal pain, and cervical cancer. Therefore, radiation treatment became the favored choice of sterilization. Specific amounts of exposure to radiation destroyed a person’s ability to produce ova or sperm. The radiation was administered through deception. Prisoners were brought into a room and asked to complete forms, which took two to three minutes. In this time, the radiation treatment was administered and, unknown to the prisoners, they were rendered completely sterile. Many suffered severe radiation burns.

Eugen Fischer began sterilization experimentation in German-occupied South West Africa during World War I. A supporter of forced sterilization as a means to prevent the growth of inferior populations and a member of the Nazi Party, Fischer focused his experimentation on mixed-race children in order to justify the Nazi Party’s ban on interracial marriage. As a result of Fischer’s research in Namibia, Germany prohibited marriages between people of different races in its colonies.

During World War II

Jewish twins were kept alive to be used in Josef Mengele‘s medical experiments. These children from Auschwitz were liberated by the Red Army in January 1945.

The Luftwaffe performed a series of 360 to 400 experiments at Dachau and Auschwitz, in which hypothermia was induced in 280 to 300 victims. These were conducted for the Nazi high command to simulate the conditions the armies suffered on the Eastern Front, as the German forces were ill-prepared for the cold weather they encountered. Many experiments were conducted on captured Russian troops; the Nazis wondered whether their genetics gave them superior resistance to cold. Approximately 100 people are reported to have died as a result of these experiments.

In early 1942, prisoners at Dachau concentration camp were used by Sigmund Rascher in experiments to aid German pilots who had to eject at high altitudes. A low-pressure chamber containing these prisoners was used to simulate conditions at altitudes of up to 20,000 m (66,000 ft). Of the 200 subjects, 80 died outright, and the others were executed.

Other experiments included: experiments on twins (such as sewing twins together in attempts to create conjoined twins), an experiment in repeated head injury which drove a boy insane, experiments at Buchenwald where poisons were secretly administered in food  experiments to test the effect of various pharmaceutical preparations on phosphorus burns induced with material from incendiary bombs, experiments at Ravensbrück to investigate the effectiveness of sulfonamide after infection with bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens (the causative agent in gas gangrene) and Clostridium tetani (the causative agent in tetanus), experiments conducted to attempt treatments of chemical burns induced by mustard gas and similar compounds, and experiments at Dachau to study various methods of making sea water drinkable.

Many of the subjects died as a result of the experiments, while many others were executed after the tests were completed to study the effect post mortem. Those who survived were often left mutilated, suffering permanent disability, weakened bodies, and mental distress.

The results of the Dachau freezing experiments have been used in some modern research into the treatment of hypothermia, with at least 45 publications having referenced the experiments since the Second World War This, together with the recent use of data from Nazi research into the effects of phosgene gas, has proven controversial and presents an ethical dilemma for modern physicians who do not agree with the methods used to obtain this data. Some object on an ethical basis, and others have rejected Nazi research purely on scientific grounds, pointing out methodological inconsistencies. In an often-cited review of the Dachau hypothermia experiments, Berger states that the study has “all the ingredients of a scientific fraud” and that the data “cannot advance science or save human lives.”

Several Nazi experimenters were after the war employed by the United States government in Operation Paperclip and later similar efforts.


Empire of Japan

Japanese Unit 731 Complex that used humans for experimentation for biological and chemical weapons, as well as live vivisections and other experiments

Human subject research in Japan began in World War II. It continued for some years after. Unit 731, a department of the Imperial Japanese Army located near Harbin (then in the puppet state of Manchukuo, in northeast China), experimented on prisoners by conducting vivisections, dismemberments, and bacterial inoculations. It induced epidemics on a very large scale from 1932 onward through the Second Sino-Japanese war. It also conducted biological and chemical weapons tests on prisoners and captured POWs. With the expansion of the empire during World War II, similar units were set up in conquered cities such as Nanking (Unit 1644), Beijing (Unit 1855), Guangzhou (Unit 8604) and Singapore (Unit 9420). After the war, Supreme Commander of the Occupation Douglas MacArthur gave immunity in the name of the United States to Shiro Ishii and all members of the units in exchange for all of the results of their experiments. The United States blocked Soviet access to this information. The Soviets prosecuted some of the Unit 731 members during its Khabarovsk War Crime Trials.

In November 2006, Doctor Akira Makino confessed to Kyodo news that he had performed surgery and amputations on condemned prisoners, including women and children, in 1944 and 1945 while he was stationed on Mindanao. Most of Makino’s victims were Moro Muslims. In 2007, Doctor Ken Yuasa testified to The Japan Times and said that he believes that at least 1,000 persons working for the Shōwa regime, including surgeons, conducted surgical research in mainland China.

State of Japan

In incidents throughout the 1950s, former Unit 731 members infected prisoners and mental health patients with deadly diseases. In 1958, a large number of infants were brought to Kobe Medical School and forcibly administered sugar by having needles inserted through their noses and into their stomachs. A tube was inserted into their anuses to determine how the sugar was processed by their digestive systems. Many of the infants experienced diarrhea and anal bleeding. The parents were never informed that their children were being used as test subjects.

Aboriginal Australians

In the 1920s and 1930s, Aboriginal Australians were subject to medical experiments on how they experienced pain and where body measurements and blood samples were forcibly taken. The experiments were motivated by a system of scientific racism and were carried out by researchers from the University of Adelaide. In 2002, the vice chancellor of the university described the experiments as “degrading and in some cases barbarous” and the school issued a formal apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups.

Indigenous populations in Canada

Canada has historically carried out unethical medical experiments on indigenous populations in concert with its policies of forced cultural assimilation. In 1933, about 600 Native children from the reserves near Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan, were enrolled in a trial to test the tuberculosis vaccine. In both the control and treatment groups nearly a fifth died from exposure, malnutrition, and other causes. Parental consent was not sought for indigenous children, though it was sought for the non-indigenous. Between 1942 and 1952, malnourished children from six residential schools were used in experiments without consent or parental notification. They were split into treatment and control groups and denied increases in nutrition, despite the researchers believing malnutrition to be a serious problem in the schools, as they were used to determine whether certain combinations of supplements mitigated problems. Children died, developed anemia, and were in some cases denied dental care previously available to them as they developed cavities and gingivitis. The experiments were run by the Department of Indian Affairs of Canada and directed by Percy Moore and Frederick Tisdall, a former president of the Canadian Paediatric Society. In 2014, the Society released a statement outlining guidelines for community-based participatory research involving InuitMétis, and First Nations youth.


From 1946 to 1948 U.S. scientific researchers in Guatemala infected hundreds of mental patients with sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Researchers from the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) conducted experiments on approximately 1,500 male and female patients housed at Guatemala’s National Mental Health Hospital. The scientists injected the patients with gonorrhea and syphilis—and encouraged many of them to pass the disease on to others. The experiments were done in cooperation with the Guatemalan government. The PHS carried out the experiments under the guise of syphilis inoculations. In 2010 these experiments were revealed by Susan Reverby of Wellesley College, who was researching a book on the Tuskegee syphilis experiments. The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued an official apology to Guatemala. President Barack Obama apologized to President Álvaro Colom, who had called these experiments “a crime against humanity“.


The Vipeholm experiments were a series of human experiments where patients of Vipeholm Hospital for intellectually disabled in LundSweden, were fed large amounts of sweets to provoke dental caries between 1945 and 1955. The experiments were sponsored both by the sugar industry and dentist community, in an effort to determine whether carbohydrates affected the formation of cavities. The experiments provided extensive knowledge about dental health and resulted in enough empirical data to link the intake of sugar to dental caries. However, today they are considered to have violated the principles of medical ethics.

United Kingdom

De-classified documents from The National Archives revealed that during the 20th century, scientists from Porton Down conducted experiments on British and Indian soldiers to test the effects of mustard gas. From 1916 until 1989, more than 20,000 British servicemen were subjected to chemical warfare trials. The experiments on Indian servicemen were conducted in RawalpindiBritish India during the 1930s and 1940s. It is unclear whether the Indian trial subjects, some of whom were hospitalised by their injuries, were all volunteers. In the 1950s, Royal Air Force engineer Ronald Maddison was killed when he was exposed to 200 milligrams of sarin at Porton Down. He had believed that he was testing a cure for the common cold, and in 2004 a High Court judgement ruled that his death was “unlawful”.

Between 1940 and 1979, the Ministry of Defence secretly dispersed potentially dangerous chemicals and micro-organisms across much of the country to evaluate readiness against a biological attack from the Soviet Union. They dropped zinc cadmium sulphide from aeroplanes and dispersed it by land to track the spread of fluorescent particles, and also spread e.colibacillus globigii, and serratia marcescens bacteria.

United States

Since the late 19th century, numerous human experiments were performed in the United States, which were later characterized as unethical. They were often performed illegally, without the knowledge, consent, or informed consent of the test subjects. Examples have included the deliberate infection of people with deadly or debilitating diseases, exposing people to biological and chemical weaponshuman radiation experiments, injecting people with toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation/torture experiments, tests involving mind-altering substances, and a wide variety of others. Many of these tests were performed on children and mentally disabled individuals. In many of the studies, a large number of the subjects were poorracial minorities, and/or prisoners. Often, subjects were sick or disabled people, whose doctors told them that they were receiving “medical treatment”. They were used as the subjects of harmful and deadly experiments, without their knowledge or consent. In reaction to this, interest groups and institutions have worked to design policies and oversight to ensure that future human subject research in the United States would be ethical and legal.

During World War II, Fort Detrick in Maryland was the headquarters of US biological warfare experiments. Operation Whitecoat involved the injection of infectious agents into military forces to observe their effects in human subjects.

Public outcry over the discovery of government experiments on human subjects led to numerous congressional investigations and hearings, including the Church CommitteeRockefeller Commission, and Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, amongst others. These inquiries have not resulted in prosecutions. Not all subjects involved in the trials have been compensated or notified that they were subjects of such trials.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Chester M. Southam injected HeLa cancer cells into healthy individuals, cancer patients, and prison inmates from the Ohio Penitentiary. This experiment raised many bioethical concerns involving informed consentnon-maleficence, and beneficence. Some of Southam’s subjects, namely those that already had cancer, were unaware that they were being injected with malignant cells. Additionally, in one of these patients, the cells metastasized to her lymph nodes.

In 1962, the Kefauver-Harris Drug Amendment was passed by the United States Congress. This amendment made changes to the Federal Food Drug & Consumer Act by requiring drug companies to prove both safety and effectiveness of their products. Consequently, drugs were required to have Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval before being marketed to consumers. Additionally, informed consent became a participation requirement and rules were put into place. This regulation was influenced by the results of 1950 use of thalidomide in Western Europe for pregnant women. They were prescribed the sedative thalidomide, which was inaccurately marketed as a morning sickness treatment. Women gave birth to more than 12,000 infants born with deformities due to effects from the drug in utero.

In the Tuskegee syphilis experiment from 1932 to 1972, the United States Public Health Service contracted with the Tuskegee Institute for a long-term study of syphilis. During the study, more than 600 African-American men were studied who were not told they had syphilis. In an effort to better understand the disease, researchers denied the men access to the known treatment of the antibiotic penicillin. They recorded observations of the effects of the disease over time. Under the impression they were being treated for “bad blood”, the participants were given free healthcare by the government. As ineffective treatment was given to the subjects, two-thirds of the group had died by the end of the 40-year experiment. A leak in 1972 led to cessation of the study and severe legal ramifications. It has been widely regarded as the “most infamous biomedical research study in U.S. history”. Because of the public outrage, in 1974 Congress passed the National Research Act, to provide for protection of human subjects in experiments. The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research was established. It was tasked with establishing the boundary between research and routine practice, the role of risk-benefit analysis, guidelines for participation, and the definition of informed consent. Its Belmont Report established three tenets of ethical research: respect for persons, beneficence, and justice.

Project MKUltra — sometimes referred to as the “CIA’s mind control program” — was the code name given to an illegal program of experiments on human subjects, designed and undertaken by the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Experiments on humans were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations and torture, in order to weaken the individual to force confessions through mind control. Organized through the Scientific Intelligence Division of the CIA, the project coordinated with the Special Operations Division of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps. The program began in the early 1950s, was officially sanctioned in 1953, was reduced in scope in 1964, further curtailed in 1967 and officially halted in 1973. The program engaged in many illegal activities; in particular it used unwitting U.S. and Canadian citizens as its test subjects, which led to controversy regarding its legitimacy. MKUltra used numerous methodologies to manipulate people’s mental states and alter brain functions, including the surreptitious administration of drugs and other chemicals, hypnosissensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, as well as various forms of torture.

Beecher Paper

In a 1966 paper, Harvard anesthesiologist Henry K. Beecher described 22 published medical studies in which patients had been subjects with no expected benefit to the patient of the experiment. This has been characterized as unethical. For example, patients infused with live cancer cells had been told in one study that they were receiving “some cells”, without being told this was cancer. Though identities of the authors and institutions had been stripped, the 22 studies were later identified as having been conducted by mainstream researchers and published in prestigious journals within approximately the previous decade. The 22 cases had been selected from a set of 50 that Beecher had collected. He presented evidence that such unethical studies were widespread and represented a systemic problem in medical research rather than exceptions.

Beecher had been writing about human experimentation and publicizing cases that he considered to be bad practice for nearly a decade. His 1965 briefing to science writers and his 1966 paper gained widespread news coverage and stimulated public reaction. The paper has been described as “the most influential single paper ever written about experimentation involving human subjects.” The United States Office for Human Research Protections credits Beecher through this paper as “ultimately contributing to the impetus for the first NIH and FDA regulations.”

Beecher was instrumental in developing solutions to such abuses. He noted that a common element in these studies was that some experimental subjects, such as military personnel or mentally handicapped children in institutions, were not in a position to freely decline consent.[69] Beecher believed that rules requiring informed consent were not alone sufficient, as truly informed consent was an unattainable ideal. He worked both to define the rules and conditions for informed consent, and to establish institutional review boards as an additional layer of oversight regarding research protocols.

International drug trials

Since the late 20th century, African nations have often been the sites of clinical testing by large international pharmaceutical companies. In some cases, rural communities have developed iatrophobia (fear of doctors) after undergoing or learning of highly controversial medical experimentation. The fundamental distrust lies in the potential confrontation of Hobson’s choice: “Experimental medicine or no medicine at all”. Multiple cases of ethically questionable experiments have been documented.

In the late 20th century, Depo-Provera was clinically tested on Zimbabwean women. Once approved, the drug was used as a population control measure in the 1970s. Commercial farm owners put pressure on native women workers to accept the use of Depo-Provera. Population control interests motivated many of the family planning programs. This led to its eventual ban in Zimbabwe.

A 1996 clinical trial in Kano, Nigeria involving the Pfizer drug Trovan to treat meningitis resulted in 200 children being disabled and the deaths of 11. Because of these casualties, the Nigerian government sued Pfizer over whether it had appropriately obtained informed consent. Pfizer argued in court that it had met all regulations for drug testing. Many Nigerians mistrust the use of medical vaccines and also refuse to participate in medical trials.

In 1994 United States drug companies began conducting trials of the drug AZT on HIV-positive African subjects with the goal of developing treatments to reduce the transmission of HIV/AIDS during childbirth. With funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the program tested over 17,000 Zimbabwean women for the efficacy of AZT in preventing transmission of HIV/AIDS during childbirth. Half of the women were given a placebo rather than the drug, and the subjects were not informed of the potential dangers of the treatment. According to Peter Lamptey, the head of the AIDS Control and Prevention Program, “if you interviewed the people in the study, most wouldn’t understand to what they had actually consented.” An estimated 1000 newborns of women in the study contracted HIV/AIDS, although this could have been avoided by treating the women with known drugs. The testing was ceased in 1998 when the CDC claimed to have obtained sufficient data from experiments in Thailand.

Here’s a List of Vulnerable Populations Historically Exploited in U.S. Research Studies

People who are part of vulnerable populations were exploited in the name of research over the years leading up to our current institutional review board and human research protections. The following is a brief list of some of the vulnerable people abused in research studies.

1908: Philadelphia researchers infected children at St. Vincent’s Home for Orphans with a virus that left some children blind. They planned to study the disease.

1911: Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research physician Hideyo Noguchi injected 146 children with syphilis to study the disease.

1939: Speech Pathologist Wendell Johnson — who was a stutterer — and research assistant Mary Tudor, used psychological abuse with the goal of inducing stuttering in normal-speaking children. His subjects were 22 children at the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home in Davenport.

1932-1972: The Tuskegee syphilis experiment studied the progression of syphilis in hundreds of poor black men. They were denied penicillin after it was available for treatment of the disease in 1947.

1940s: The Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study, conducted by the United States Army, State Department, and the University of Chicago, looked at the effects of malaria on prisoners of Stateville Penitentiary. Psychiatric patients at Illinois State Hospital also were infected with malaria for the testing of experimental treatments.

1940-1953: Pediatric neuropsychiatrist Lauretta Bender performed electroshock experiments on more than 100 children diagnosed with “autistic schizophrenia” at Bellevue Hospital. A later study of the children found that nearly all were worse off, with violence and suicidal tendencies.

1946-1948: A Guatemala study involved U.S. researchers using prostitutes to infect prison inmates with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases in order to test the effectiveness of penicillin as treatment.

1946: Vanderbilt University researchers gave more than 800 pregnant women in Tennessee “vitamin drinks” that contained radioactive iron. Researchers studied how fast the radioisotope crossed into the placenta. Some of the babies died from the experiments, and some of the effected children later died of cancer.

1946-1953: The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, the Walter E. Fernald State School, and the Quaker Oats Corporation fed oatmeal spiked with radioisotopes to 73 mentally disabled children to track how nutrients were digested.

1950s: Dr. Robert Heath of Tulane University, also known for inventing dubious gay conversion therapy techniques, gave 42 schizophrenia patients and prisoners at the Louisiana State Penitentiary LSD and Bulbocapnine to take their EEG readings. Heath also implanted electrodes in black prisoners in New Orleans.

1950: Dr. Joseph Stokes of the University of Pennsylvania infected 200 female prisoners with viral hepatitis.

1953: The U.S. Atomic Energy Commission at the University of Iowa studied the health effects of radioactive iodine in newborns and pregnant women.

1955-1960: Mentally handicapped children with cerebral palsy and other disorders were given painful spinal taps and had air injected into their brains as part of research at Sonoma State Hospital in California. Some died from the experiments.

1950s-1972: Researchers infected mentally disabled children at Willowbrook State School in Staten Island, NY, with viral hepatitis for vaccine research. The children were fed the virus through an extract made of feces from infected patients.

1960-1971: University of Cincinnati researcher Eugene Saenger irradiated 88 poor black men, women and children. Some died within hours.

1964-1968: The U.S. Army funded experiments with mind-altering drugs on 320 inmates of Holmesburg Prison to determine the minimum effective dose needed to disable 50% of a population. Also, Albert M. Kligman conducted skin experiments on prisoners, injecting 70 prisoners with dioxin.

10 Disturbing Cases Of Unethical STI Experiments

Across the globe, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are a huge problem. However, some of the most unethical of experiments have led to genuine breakthroughs in treatment of STIs.

At a certain point, the first human is going to have to try an experimental drug or procedure for progress in treatment research to occur. The dangers sometimes seem in direct conflict with the Hippocratic Oath, which states that medical practitioners must “utterly reject harm and mischief.” Here, we document cases of morality deeply skewed yet peppered with the hope of improving treatment for STIs.

10 The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment was conducted over a 40-year period, from 1932 to 1972 in Macon County, Alabama. 399 black males suffering from syphilis and 201 who were disease-free took part in the US Public Health Service experiment. They weren’t aware of the details of their illnesses, simply being told they had “bad blood” and that their treatment would last six months. Benefits of participating in the study included free food, health care, and burial insurance.

Penicillin emerged as the standard medication for syphilis by the mid-1940s. Clinicians kept the study’s participants unaware of the drug’s efficacy and continued to test alternative methods. By the mid-1960s, outrage was beginning to pile up behind closed doors. Several accusations of unethical practice were hurled at the experiments’ conductors. Peter Buxtun, a US Public Health Service venereal disease investigator, was one such voice of dissent. However, when his formal complaint was lodged, he was told that the study must continue to completion—most likely meaning until all subjects had perished and had received full autopsies.

The experiment only came to an end in 1972, when Buxtun leaked information to the press. Only 74 of the original 600 participants were still alive at the time. 40 of their spouses also contracted syphilis, and at least 19 children are known to have been born with the disease.

9 Doctor Heiman’s Gonorrhea Experiment

There are over 40 surviving reports of experimental human gonorrhea infection from around the turn of the 20th century. This practice slightly withered with the discovery that monkeys could also be infected with the disease.

In its heyday, a popular method was to apply a gonorrhea sample to the end of a stick and then swab a victim’s eye. In 1895, Doctor Henry Heiman used this method to deliberately infect two mentally disabled children with the disease, as well as man in the final stages of tuberculosis. In his own writings, the doctor describes the four-year-old boy he experimented on as “an idiot with chronic leprosy” and the 16-year-old boy as simply “an idiot.”

Heiman spent a large part of his career studying hypersensitivity reactions to vaccines, known in his time as the Pirquet reaction. Thus, like many of the brutal experiments conducted by olden-day medical practitioners, the desired results were likely some form of safe immunization.

8 The Willowbrook School Hepatitis Experiment

Willowbrook State School was not a pleasant place to send your kids. However, institutional options that cared for the mentally disabled were few and far between in Staten Island, New York. So many families ended up sending their children to the school that it became severely overcrowded and progressively unhygienic. In fact, by the mid-1950s, owing to poor conditions, most of the students were infected with a form of hepatitis. As a result, pioneering hepatitis researcher Doctor Saul Krugman took an interest in the school. He spent the next two decades studying the disease in the infected students of Willowbrook.

The overcrowding issue and the need for consent in Krugman’s studies were both eventually resolved rather elegantly—albeit immorally. The main school was closed to new admissions in 1964, at a time when it was nearly 2,000 students over official capacity. From that point on, the only openings were in the hepatitis unit, where students were intentionally infected. Parents had little choice but to consent.

Krugman argued that the rate of infection was already so high in the main school that new students would likely contract hepatitis anyway. Through his work, Krugman observed two strains of hepatitis: A and B. He also discovered that they were spread differently. This led to the development of a successful hepatitis B vaccine.

7 The AIDS Drug Overseas Placebo Trials

In the 1990s, the US Centers for Disease Control funded experiments in Africa, Thailand, and the Dominican Republic to determine the efficacy of a drug known as AZT. In the US, it was taken by pregnant women with AIDS during the final 12 weeks of their pregnancy.

AZT’s purpose was to reduce the chance of transmission of the disease to babies. However, at the time of the experiments, it cost $1,000 per mother for treatment. The overseas experiments therefore set out to determine if there was a cheaper way to treat people. In total, 12,211 women were involved in the experiments. Some were given the same amount of AZT as American mothers receive, some were given a smaller dosage, and some received a placebo.

The ethical legitimacy of the AZT experiments has long been argued over. Those in support contend that the women who received the placebo wouldn’t have had access to the expensive medicine, anyway. However, the awkward gray area of the experiment is that over 1,000 infants were infected from mothers who took part in the study. They were completely unaware that the medication they were taking did nothing.

The experiments came to an end following completion in Thailand. The results confirmed that a shorter period of AZT usage still significantly reduces the chance of babies being born infected.

6 Doctor Black’s Herpes Experiment On A Baby

In the late 1930s, Doctor William C. Black began a series of herpes experiments. In total, 23 children were injected with the virus in order to document the physical symptoms that it produced. In 1941, he infected a 12-month-old baby, who Black contentiously stated “offered as a volunteer.” Best-case scenario, it was a particularly communicative baby.

The findings of his studies were then submitted to The Journal of Experimental Medicine. In response, the editor, Doctor Payton Rous, wrote, “In my personal view, the inoculation of a twelve-month-old [ . . . ] was an abuse of power, an infringement of the rights of an individual, and not excusable because the illness which followed had implications for science.”

Regardless of the backlash, Doctor Black’s study helped establish that symptoms of the herpes virus can vary greatly from patient to patient. His findings were published in The Journal of Pediatrics in 1942.

5 Doctor Noguchi’s Syphilis Experiments

Doctor Hideyo Noguchi is best remembered for his syphilis experiments on humans in 1911 and 1912 as part of his larger work for the Rockefeller Institute of New York.

Noguchi recruited 571 participants from local hospitals and clinics. Orphans were also used. 315 of the subjects were already infected with syphilis. The rest were used as controls and were syphilis-free at the time of the study’s commencement. The hospitalized subjects, however, were already being treated for various other diseases, including leprosy, malaria, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.

The experiments consisted of injecting the subjects with extracts of syphilis and studying the skin reactions. The non-syphilitic controls were crucial to the study, as the extracts produced different reactions, depending on whether or not the participant was already infected.

The experiments were widely criticized by the public and led to organized protests. One of Doctor Noguchi’s colleagues at the Rockefeller Institute, Jerome Greene, wrote a letter in response. He stated that Noguchi had injected himself with the extract, before using it on subjects, and thus proved it didn’t cause infection. This turned out to be nonsense. Noguchi had indeed injected himself, however he was diagnosed with syphilis in 1913, having ignored symptoms for a prolonged period of time.

Through his work, Doctor Noguchi discovered that syphilis causes progressive paralysis and was subsequently nominated for the Nobel Prize.

4 Experimental Hepatitis E Vaccine Tested On Nepalese Army

It should be noted that hepatitis E, unlike B, C, or D, is not normally transmitted through sexual activity. However, it can be transferred through oral-fecal interaction. So, avoid that.

From 2001 to 2004, GlaxoSmithKline and the United States organized a clinical trial that involved 1,794 members of the Royal Nepalese Army. Due to unsanitary water supplies, many people in Asia and Africa develop Hepatitis E. These trials were to determine the efficacy of a new vaccine.

The participants were separated into two groups. One group received a placebo vaccine, which resulted in seven percent of them displaying symptoms associated with hepatitis E during the trial’s lifespan. Conversely, only 0.3 percent of the group who received actual treatment developed symptoms of the disease.

Jason Andrews of the Yale School of Medicine has been vocal in his criticism of the trial. It’s his belief that the participants could “easily be coerced into taking part.” More broadly, he criticized GlaxoSmithKline for deciding not to produce the drug, even though its efficacy was proven.

It took three years for the results of the trial to be published—further hinting at a business-first approach to medical research.

3 The Ugandan AIDS Drug Trial

Nevirapine, marketed in the US under the name of Viramune, is a medication for the treatment and prevention of AIDS. In 1997, trials for the drug began in Uganda in order to determine if a single-dose treatment would prevent mother-to-baby disease transmissions. Single-dosing the participants was also crucial to the safety of the trial, as prolonged usage of nevirapine is known to lead to liver damage. It’s very strong.

The trial’s findings confirmed the drug’s significant efficacy in reducing transmission of the disease, and in 2002, George W. Bush’s government bankrolled a $500 million plan to distribute the drug across Africa.

However, it has since emerged that the trial’s conductors were withholding information. Specifically, 14 participant deaths went undocumented, as well as thousands of bad reactions. In 2002, the Ugandan government was informed of the messy extra details, and the trial was suspended. The drug’s manufacturer, Boehringer Ingelheim, also withdrew their request for permission to use nevirapine on American babies.

2 GlaxoSmithKline’s AIDS Drug Trial On Orphans

In 2004, it was revealed that GlaxoSmithKline and the National Institutes of Health had funded medical trials on orphans and similarly vulnerable children. They took place at the Incarnation Children’s Center in New York and had been going on for at least nine years.

Normally, parental consent is required for children to participate in trials. However, due to their circumstances, New York authorities were allowed to give consent on the children’s behalf. Some were as young as six months old.

The children were used as guinea pigs for a variety of different medications over the years. This included trials of herpes medication and the aforementioned AZT drug for AIDS and HIV, a seriously strong drug, even for an adult.

Doctor Nicholas, a pediatrician involved in the trials, has said that, “No child ever had an unexpected side effect.” That’s probably true—from the conductors’ perspectives. The actual children’s expectations were confounded regularly.

1 The Guatemala Syphilis Experiments

The Guatemala syphilis experiments took place from 1946 to 1948. They were conducted by the US government with the cooperation of some Guatemalan health officials.

The experiments’ main purpose was to test penicillin usage in the treatment of syphilis. Guatemalan prostitutes who had contracted the disease were therefore sought out and studied, along with the men they subsequently infected. Most victims, however, were injected with the disease. They were largely prisoners and psychiatric patients. As usual, the vulnerable became guinea pigs.

In total, 1,300 people were deliberately infected with syphilis, gonorrhea, or the lesser-known STI chancroid. Only 700 received any form of treatment. This resulted in 83 known deaths, but the actual number of fatalities was likely much higher. Physician John Charles Cutler was at the experiments’ helm; he was also a key player in the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

In 2010, the US finally issued a formal apology to the Guatemalan victims of the experiments, labeling their ordeal as “outrageous and abhorrent.”

5 Unethical Medical Experiments Brought Out of the Shadows of History

Prisoners and other vulnerable populations often bore the brunt of unethical medical experimentation.

Most people are aware of some of the heinous medical experiments of the past that violated human rights. Participation in these studies was either forced or coerced under false pretenses. Some of the most notorious examples include the experiments by the Nazis, the Tuskegee syphilis study, the Stanford Prison Experiment, and the CIA’s LSD studies.

But there are many other lesser-known experiments on vulnerable populations that have flown under the radar. Study subjects often didn’t — or couldn’t — give consent. Sometimes they were lured into participating with a promise of improved health or a small amount of compensation. Other times, details about the experiment were disclosed but the extent of risks involved weren’t.

This perhaps isn’t surprising, as doctors who conducted these experiments were representative of prevailing attitudes at the time of their work. But unfortunately, even after informed consent was introduced in the 1950s, disregard for the rights of certain populations continued. Some of these researchers’ work did result in scientific advances — but they came at the expense of harmful and painful procedures on unknowing subjects.

Here are five medical experiments of the past that you probably haven’t heard about. They illustrate just how far the ethical and legal guidepost, which emphasizes respect for human dignity above all else, has moved.

The Prison Doctor Who Did Testicular Transplants

From 1913 to 1951, eugenicist Leo Stanley was the chief surgeon at San Quentin State Prison, California’s oldest correctional institution. After performing vasectomies on prisoners, whom he recruited through promises of improved health and vigor, Stanley turned his attention to the emerging field of endocrinology, which involves the study of certain glands and the hormones they regulate. He believed the effects of aging and decreased hormones contributed to criminality, weak morality, and poor physical attributes. Transplanting the testicles of younger men into those who were older would restore masculinity, he thought.  

Stanley began by using the testicles of executed prisoners — but he ran into a supply shortage. He solved this by using the testicles of animals, including goats and deer. At first, he physically implanted the testicles directly into the inmates. But that had complications, so he switched to a new plan: He ground up the animal testicles into a paste, which he injected into prisoners’ abdomens. By the end of his time at San Quentin, Stanley did an estimated 10,000 testicular procedures.

The Oncologist Who Injected Cancer Cells Into Patients and Prisoners

During the 1950s and 1960s, Sloan-Kettering Institute oncologist Chester Southam conducted research to learn how people’s immune systems would react when exposed to cancer cells. In order to find out, he injected live HeLa cancer cells into patients, generally without their permission. When patient consent was given, details around the true nature of the experiment were often kept secret. Southam first experimented on terminally ill cancer patients, to whom he had easy access. The result of the injection was the growth of cancerous nodules, which led to metastasis in one person.

Next, Southam experimented on healthy subjects, which he felt would yield more accurate results. He recruited prisoners, and, perhaps not surprisingly, their healthier immune systems responded better than those of cancer patients. Eventually, Southam returned to infecting the sick and arranged to have patients at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in Brooklyn, NY, injected with HeLa cells. But this time, there was resistance. Three doctors who were asked to participate in the experiment refused, resigned, and went public.

The scandalous newspaper headlines shocked the public, and legal proceedings were initiated against Southern. Some in the scientific and medical community condemned his experiments, while others supported him. Initially, Southam’s medical license was suspended for one year, but it was then reduced to a probation. His career continued to be illustrious, and he was subsequently elected president of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The Aptly Named ‘Monster Study’

Pioneering speech pathologist Wendell Johnson suffered from severe stuttering that began early in his childhood. His own experience motivated his focus on finding the cause, and hopefully a cure, for stuttering. He theorized that stuttering in children could be impacted by external factors, such as negative reinforcement. In 1939, under Johnson’s supervision, graduate student Mary Tudor conducted a stuttering experiment, using 22 children at an Iowa orphanage. Half received positive reinforcement. But the other half were ridiculed and criticized for their speech, whether or not they actually stuttered. This resulted in a worsening of speech issues for the children who were given negative feedback.

The study was never published due to the multitude of ethical violations. According to The Washington Post, Tudor was remorseful about the damage caused by the experiment and returned to the orphanage to help the children with their speech. Despite his ethical mistakes, the Wendell Johnson Speech and Hearing Clinic at the University of Iowa bears Johnson’s name and is a nod to his contributions to the field.

The Dermatologist Who Used Prisoners As Guinea Pigs

One of the biggest breakthroughs in dermatology was the invention of Retin-A, a cream that can treat sun damage, wrinkles, and other skin conditions. Its success led to fortune and fame for co-inventor Albert Kligman, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania. But Kligman is also known for his nefarious dermatology experiments on prisoners that began in 1951 and continued for around 20 years. He conducted his research on behalf of companies including DuPont and Johnson & Johnson.

Kligman’s work often left prisoners with pain and scars as he used them as study subjects in wound healing and exposed them to deodorants, foot powders, and more for chemical and cosmetic companies. Dow once enlisted Kligman to study the effects of dioxin, a chemical in Agent Orange, on 75 inmates at Pennsylvania’s Holmesburg Prison. The prisoners were paid a small amount for their participation but were not told about the potential side effects.

In the University of Pennsylvania’s journal, Almanac, Kligman’s obituary focused on his medical advancements, awards, and philanthropy. There was no acknowledgement of his prison experiments. However, it did mention that as a “giant in the field,” he “also experienced his fair share of controversy.”

The Endocrinologist Who Irradiated Prisoners

When the Atomic Energy Commission wanted to know how radiation affected male reproductive function, they looked to endocrinologist Carl Heller. In a study involving Oregon State Penitentiary prisoners between 1963 and 1973, Heller designed a contraption that would radiate their testicles at varying amounts to see what effect it had, particularly on sperm production. The prisoners also were subjected to repeated biopsies and were required to undergo vasectomies once the experiments concluded.

Although study participants were paid, it raised ethical issues about the potential coercive nature of financial compensation to prison populations. The prisoners were informed about the risks of skin burns, but likely were not told about the possibility of significant pain, inflammation, and the small risk of testicular cancer.

9 evil medical experiments

Many evil medical experiments have been conducted in the name of science, here are nine of the most horrific.

Throughout history a number of evil experiments have been carried out in the name of science. We all know the stereotype of the mad scientist, often a villain in popular culture. Yet in real-life, while science often saves lives, sometimes scientists commit horrific crimes in order to achieve results.

Some are ethical mistakes,  lapses of judgement made by people convinced  they’re doing the right thing. Other times, they’re pure evil. Here are nine of the worst experiments on human subjects in history.


In the 1960s and 1970s , clinical psychologists led by Peter Neubauer ran a secret experiment in which they separated twins and triplets from each other and adopted them out as singlets. The experiment, said to have been partly funded by the National Institute of Mental Health(opens in new tab), came to light when three identical triplet brothers accidentally found each other in 1980. They had no idea they had siblings.

David Kellman, one of the triplets, felt anger towards the experiment: ”We were robbed of 20 years together,” said Kellman in the Orlando Sentinel article. His brother, Edward Galland died by suicide in 1995 at his home in Maplewood, New Jersey, according to the LA Times.

The child psychiatrists who headed up the study — Peter Neubauer and Viola Bernard — showed no remorse, according to news reports, going as far as saying they thought they were doing something good for the kids, separating them so they could develop their individual personalities, said Bernard, according to Quillette. As for what Neubauer learned from his secret “evil” experiment, that’s anyone’s guess, as the results of the controversial study are being stored in an archive at Yale University, and they can’t be unsealed until 2066, NPR reported in 2007(opens in new tab). Neubauer published some of his findings in a 1996 book, Nature’s Thumbprint: The New Genetics of Personality, primarily concerning his son. According to Psychology today, as of 2021, some of Dr Viola Bernard’s papers have become viewable at Columbia University.

Director Tim Wardle chronicled the lives of the triplets in the film “Three Identical Strangers,” which debuted at Sundance 2018.


Perhaps the most infamous evil experiments of all time were those carried out by Josef Mengele, an SS physician at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Mengele combed the incoming trains for twins upon which to experiment, hoping to prove his theories of the racial supremacy of Aryans. Many died in the process. He also collected the eyes of his dead “patients,” according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The Nazis used prisoners to test treatments for infectious diseases and chemical warfare. Others were forced into freezing temperatures and low-pressure chambers for aviation experiments, according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Countless prisoners were subjected to experimental sterilization procedures. One woman, Ruth Elias, had her breasts tied off with string so SS doctors could see how long it took her baby to starve, according to an oral history collected by the Holocaust Museum. She eventually injected the child with a lethal dose of morphine to keep it from suffering longer.

Some of the doctors responsible for these atrocities were later tried as war criminals, but Mengele escaped to South America. He died in Brazil in 1979, of a heart attack, his final years spent lonely and depressed according to The Guardian.


Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Japanese Imperial Army conducted biological warfare and medical testing on civilians, mostly in China. Led by General Shiro Ishii, the lead physician at UNIT 731,  the death  toll of these brutal experiments is unknown, but as many as 200,000 may have died, estimates Historian Sheldon H Harris according to a 1995 New York Times report.

Numerous diseases were studied in order to determine their potential use in warfare. Among them were plague, anthrax, dysentery, typhoid, paratyphoid and cholera, according to a paper by Dr Robert K D Peterson for Montana University. Numerous atrocities were committed including infecting wells with cholera and typhoid and spreading plague-ridden fleas across Chinese cities. 

According to Peterson the fleas were dropped in clay bombs, which were dropped at a height of 200-300 meters and showed no trace. Prisoners were marched in freezing weather and then experimented on to determine the best treatment for frostbite. 

Former members of the unit have told media outlets that prisoners were dosed with poison gas, put in pressure chambers until their eyes popped out, and even dissected while alive and conscious. After the war, the U.S. government helped keep the experiments secret as part of a plan to make Japan a cold-war ally, according to the Times report.

It was not until the late 1990’s that Japan first acknowledged the existence of the unit and not until 2018 that the names of thousands of members of the Unit were disclosed, according to The Guardian


In 1939, speech pathologists at the University of Iowa set out to prove their theory that stuttering was a learned behavior caused by a child’s anxiety about speaking. Unfortunately, the way they chose to go about this was to try to induce stuttering in orphans by telling them they were doomed to start stuttering in the future.

The researchers sat down with children at the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans’ Home and told them they were showing signs of stuttering and shouldn’t speak unless they could be sure that they would speak right. The experiment didn’t induce stuttering, but it did make formerly normal children anxious, withdrawn and silent.

Future Iowa pathology students dubbed the study, “the Monster Study,” according to a 2003 New York Times article on the research. Three surviving children and the estates of three others eventually sued Iowa and the university. In 2007, Iowa settled for a total of $925,000.


Until the 1830s, the only legally available bodies for dissection by anatomists were those of executed murderers. Executed murderers being a relative rarity, many anatomists took to buying bodies from grave robbers — or doing the robbing themselves. “Body snatching as a ‘professional’ occupation didn’t really start to take shape until the end of the 18th century” Suzie Lennox, the author of Bodysnatchers: Digging Up the Untold Stories of Britain’s Resurrection Men  told All About History in an interview “up till then the students and anatomists would have carried out their own raids in graveyards, acquiring cadavers as and when they could”.

Edinburgh boarding house owner William Hare and his friend William Burke found a way to deliver fresh corpses to Edinbrugh’s anatomy tables without ever actually stealing a body. From 1827 to 1828, the two men smothered more than a dozen lodgers at the boarding house  and sold their bodies to anatomist Robert Knox, according to Mary Roach’s “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2003). Knox apparently didn’t notice (or didn’t care) that the bodies his newest suppliers were bringing him were suspiciously fresh, Roach wrote.

Burke was later hanged for his crimes, and the case spurred the British government to loosen the restrictions on dissection. “The scandal led to the Anatomy Act of 1832 which made greater numbers of cadavers legally available to schools” Maclolm McCallum, the curator of the Edinburgh Anatomical Museum told All About History in an interview. “If you died in an asylum or hospital, and had no relatives or means to cover your funeral costs, your body would go to the schools for dissection. Crucially, the institutions which were providing the cadavers only supplied them to anatomy schools that were associated with teaching hospitals”.


The father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims, gained much of his fame by doing experimental surgeries (sometimes several per person) on slave women, according to The Atlantic. Sims remains a controversial figure to this day, because the condition he was treating in the women, vesico-vaginal fistula, caused terrible suffering. Women with fistulas, a tear between the vagina and bladder, were incontinent and were often rejected by society.

Sims performed the surgeries without anesthesia, in part because anesthesia had only recently been discovered, and in part because Sims believed the operations were “not painful enough to justify the trouble,” as he said in alecture according to NPR.

Arguments still rage as to whether Sims’ patients would have consented to the surgeries had they been entirely free to choose. Nonetheless, wrote University of Alabama social work professor Durrenda Ojanuga in the Journal of Medical Ethics in 1993, Sims “manipulated the social institution of slavery to perform human experimentations, which by any standard is unacceptable.” In 2018, a statue of Sims was removed in response to the ongoing controversy, according to The Guardian


Many people erroneously believe that the government deliberately infected the Tuskegee participants with syphilis, which was not the case. But the work of professor Susan Reverby recently exposed a time when the U.S.  Public Health Service researchers did just that, according to Wellesley College. Between 1946 and 1948, Reverby found, the U.S. and Guatemalan governments co-sponsored a study involving the deliberate infection of 1,500 Guatemalan men, women and children with syphilis according to The Guardian.

The study was intended to test chemicals to prevent the spread of the disease. According to ​​Michael A. Rodriguez in a 2013 paper; “The experiments were not conducted in a sterile clinical setting in which bacteria that cause STDs were administered in the form of a pin prick vaccination or a pill taken orally. The researchers systematically and repeatedly violated profoundly vulnerable individuals, some in the saddest and most despairing states, and grievously aggravated their suffering” Those who got syphilis were given penicillin as a treatment, Reverby found, but the records she uncovered indicate no follow-up or informed consent by the participants. On Oct. 1, 2010, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a joint statement apologizing for the experiments, according to The Guardian.


The most famous lapse in medical ethics in the United States lasted for 40 years. In 1932, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Public Health Service launched a study on the health effects of untreated syphilis in black men. 

The researchers tracked the progression of the disease in 399 black men in Alabama and also studied 201 healthy men , telling them they were being treated for “bad blood.” In fact, the men never got adequate treatment, even in 1947 when penicillin became the drug of choice to treat syphilis. It wasn’t until a 1972 newspaper article exposed the study to the public eye that officials shut it down, according to the official Tuskegee site.


In 1971, Philip Zimbardo, now professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford University, set out to test the “nature of human nature,” to answer questions such as “What happens when you put good people in evil situations?” How he went about answering his human nature questions was and is thought by many to have been less than ethical. He set up a prison and paid college students to play guards and prisoners, who inevitably seemed to transform into abusive guards and hysterical prisoners. The two-week experiment was shut down after just six days because things turned chaotic fast. “In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress,” Zimbardo stated, according to Times Higher Education. The guards, pretty much from the get-go, treated the prisoners awfully, humiliating them by stripping them naked and spraying their bodies with delousing chemicals and generally harassing and intimidating them, according to the Stanford Prison Experiment site

Turns out, according to a report on Medium, a news publication, in June 2018, the guards didn’t become aggressive on their own — Zimbardo encouraged the abusive behavior — and some of the prisoners faked their emotional breakdowns. For instance, Douglas Korpi, a volunteer prisoner said that he faked a meltdown to get released early so he could study for an exam.

Even so, the Stanford Prison Experiment has been the basis of psychologists’ and even historians’ understanding of how even healthy people can become so evil when placed in certain situations, according to the American Psychological Association.

Unethical experiments’ painful contributions to today’s medicine

Historic examples of human experimentation include wartime atrocities by Nazi doctors that tested the limits of human survival. Another led to the creation of the hepatitis B vaccine prototype. Wendell Johnson, who made several contributions to the field of communication disorders, tried to induce stuttering in normally fluent children. In the 1940s, prisoners in Illinois were infected with malaria to test anti-malaria drugs.

Such experiments have been criticized as unethical but have advanced medicine and its ethical codes, such as the Nuremberg Code.

When He made his claim of genetically altering humans, the response from the global medical community was swift and condemning.

“It is out of the question that the experiment is unethical,” said Jing Bao Nie, professor of bioethics at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Without “medical necessity, it is not ethical to carry out” gene editing.

Sarah Chan, director of the University of Edinburgh’s Mason Institute for Medicine, Life Sciences and the Law, adds that the balance of risks and benefits make it hard to justify this experiment. Genome editing of embryos is still not fully established, and “virtually all scientists will say we don’t yet know enough about It to be able to recommend that we just go ahead with it clinically,” she said.

If it were the case of a life-threatening disease that will cause tremendous pain, and the only way to alleviate the pain would be a risky experimental procedure, then Chan thinks “given the immense benefit, we could produce perhaps taking that risk is justified.”

When it comes to medical ethics, different principles need to be weighed against each other by an institutional review board, deciding over experiments involving human participants.

A definition of medical ethics

Medical ethicists and researchers commonly hold that there are seven general rules for an ethical experiment involving humans, explained Govind Persad, assistant law professor at the University of Denver.

Experiments should be socially valuable and scientifically valid, and people have to be selected fairly and respected. The risks and benefits to participants and the benefits to society need to be weighed against each other, and there needs to be an independent outside review of the ethics of the experiment, Persad said.

The risks and benefits equation sometimes includes third-party consideration, such as tests of a vaccine that includes a virus that can “shed” and infect others who are not research participants, Persad said. Research on smallpox vaccine is one example.

If He’s experiment produced any mutations, these could be passed down to the twins’ children and then diffuse into the general population, which didn’t consent to that change, Persad explained.

“I don’t know how large of a risk that is,” Persad said. “Because again, it depends on the odds of the mutation, whether the mutation was one that would end up staying in the population or whether it would be selected out over time.”

Many of national and international protocols, like the 2005 UN Declaration on Human Rights and Bioethics, include some of these seven principles, Persad said. But as with most international documents, these protocols are not legally binding.

The first document outlining how research should be done in a fair way was a product of Nazi war atrocities.

During the 1940s, Nazi doctors conducted human experiments on prisoners in concentration camps. In all of these experiments, which one study by the Jewish Virtual Library describes as “acts of torture,” prisoners were forced into danger, nearly all enduring mutilation and pain, and many experiments had fatal outcomes. Most famously, experiments were conducted by Dr. Josef Mengele, who was interested in twins and performed “agonizing and often lethal” research on them.

Renate Guttmann was one of the “Mengele Twins,” according to the Holocaust Encyclopedia, subjected to experiments such as injections that made her vomit and have diarrhea, and blood being taken from her neck.

Twenty Nazi doctors were sentenced in the 1945-46 Nuremberg trials. The process resulted in the first ethics document, the Nuremberg Code, a 10-point declaration on how to conduct ethical scientific research.

But some doctors felt that this code did not apply to them.

A decade later, pediatrician Dr. Saul Krugman was asked to do something about rampant hepatitis in the Willowbrook State School for children with intellectual disabilities on Staten Island, New York. Krugman found that over 90% of children at the school were infected.

Contracting hepatitis was “inevitable” and “predictable” due to poor hygiene at the overcrowded school, according to the first study Krugman and his colleagues carried out in Willowbrook. He decided to try to develop a vaccine, and parents were informed and asked for consent.

Krugman’s experiment helped him discover two strains of hepatitis – A and B – and how these spread, A spreading via the fecal-oral route and B through intimate contact and transfer of body fluids. Fifteen years later, he developed a prototype hepatitis B vaccine.

In his paper, Krugman agrees with criticism that the ends do not justify the means but says he does not believe that to apply to his own work, since all children at the school were constantly exposed to the risk of acquiring hepatitis.

The subsequent debate pointed out that the central ethical question around Krugman’s work is whether it can be acceptable to perform a dangerous experiment on a person, in this case the Willowbrook students, who will themselves see no benefit from it.

Kelly Edwards, professor of bioethics at the University of Washington, thinks back to the needed balance of risks and benefits in an experiment. “We had a trend of saying ‘this group of people is already suffering,’ ” she says, which inspired researchers to study these populations for some generalizable knowledge that would help others. “But we still are really taking advantage of this one group of people suffering.”

She believes there are now other methods that would have brought the same results. But because the vaccine was acquired in this unethical way and we are using the “tainted data” – results from unethical experiments – Edwards says we owe some recognition to “the children who contributed to that knowledge.”

Tainted medical past

The need for retribution and compensation is found in a famously unethical experiment: the Tuskegee syphilis study. Syphilis was seen as a major health problem in the 1920s, so in 1932, the US Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama began a study to record the natural progression of the disease.

The study observed 600 black men, 201 of whom did not have the disease. In order to incentivize participants, they were offered free medical exams, meals and burial insurance. But they were not informed of what was being investigated; instead, they were told that they would receive treatment for “bad blood” – a local term that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says was used to describe several illnesses, including syphilis, anemia and fatigue.

Those who carried the diseases were not treated for syphilis, even when penicillin became an effective cure in 1947.

After the first reports about the study in 1972, an advisory panel was appointed to review the Tuskegee study. Their conclusion was that the knowledge gained “was sparse” compared to the risks to the subjects. The study concluded in October of that year.

Shortly after, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the participants and their families. A $10 million settlement was reached.

The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program was established to pay compensation such as lifetime medical benefits and burial services to all living participants and their wives and children. President Bill Clinton publicly apologized for the study in 1997.

Edwards noted that many medicines and vaccines now in routine use were obtained initially through unethical means, “and some of them are not even as much on our consciousness.”

The birth control pill was tested in 1955 on women in Puerto Rico who were not told that they were involved in a clinical trial or that the pill was experimental and had potentially dangerous side effects.

The 1979 Belmont Report into ethical guidelines for scientific research made informed consent US law and therefore such experiments illegal.

The commission responsible for the Belmont report also wrote topic-specific reports, one of which was on the use of prisoners in experiments. “It was a pretty widespread practice to use prisoner populations,” Edwards said, because it was seen as offering them a way to repay their debts to society.

One place where prisoners were used in experiments was Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia in the 1950s. Dermatologist Dr. Albert M. Kligman, famous for patenting the acne treatment Retin-A, conducted many tests on these inmates. Retin-A was partially based on Kligman’s experiments on prisoners at Holmesburg, according to a report. Some included studying the reaction to dangerous chemicals, such as dioxin, an Agent Orange ingredient, the removal of thumbnails to see how fingers react to abuse, or the infestation of inmates with ringworm.

One psychiatrist working at Holmesburg at the same time as Kligman reported that tranquilizers, antibiotics and Johnson & Johnson toothpaste and mouthwash were all tested on inmates, according to Sana Loue in “Textbook of Research Ethics: Theory and Practice.”

Participating in these experiments was one of way for prisoners to earn money and a further means to control them, Loue said.

Prisoners’ inability to give consent because their lives are completely controlled by others and the large risk of coerciveness are what inspired the Belmont report to rule out experiments with this vulnerable population, Edwards said.

The present and future of ethics

The reports that followed these experiments were used to draw up laws and governance bodies, such as institutional review boards. These boards are made up of a small group of representatives from the institution that would like to carry out the experiment and one non-scientific community representative; they decide whether an experiment is ethical and should go ahead.

Edwards says the institutional review boards offer a small one-time assessment of the situation. She hopes for more ongoing ethical review practices during experiments, like data safety monitoring, used mainly in clinical trials. This monitoring tool can halt an experiment at any time.

Chan also sees the need for more discussions around ethics. He’s experiment and the second international human genome editing summit in Hong Kong, where He publicly defended his work, showed that there “is a real will to have these discussions seriously [and] to consider both what the benefits are but also to consider very carefully the conditions under which we should be using these technologies,” she said.

30 Most Unethical Psychology Human Experiments

Disturbing human experiments aren’t something the average person thinks too much about. Rather, the progress achieved in the last 150 years of human history is an accomplishment we’re reminded of almost daily. Achievements made in biomedicine and the field of psychology mean that we no longer need to worry about things like deadly diseases or masturbation as a form of insanity. For better or worse, we have developed more effective ways to gather information, treat skin abnormalities, and even kill each other. But what we are not constantly reminded of are the human lives that have been damaged or lost in the name of this progress. The following is a list of the 30 most disturbing human experiments in history.

30. The Tearoom Sex Study


Image SourceSociologist Laud Humphreys often wondered about the men who commit impersonal sexual acts with one another in public restrooms. He wondered why “tearoom sex” — fellatio in public restrooms — led to the majority of homosexual arrests in the United States. Humphreys decided to become a “watchqueen” (the person who keeps watch and coughs when a cop or stranger get near) for his Ph.D. dissertation at Washington University. Throughout his research, Humphreys observed hundreds of acts of fellatio and interviewed many of the participants. He found that 54% of his subjects were married, and 38% were very clearly neither bisexual or homosexual. Humphreys’ research shattered a number of stereotypes held by both the public and law enforcement.

29. Prison Inmates as Test Subjects


Image SourceIn 1951, Dr. Albert M. Kligman, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania and future inventor of Retin-A, began experimenting on inmates at Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison. As Kligman later told a newspaper reporter, “All I saw before me were acres of skin. It was like a farmer seeing a field for the first time.” Over the next 20 years, inmates willingly allowed Kligman to use their bodies in experiments involving toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo, skin creams, detergents, liquid diets, eye drops, foot powders, and hair dyes. Though the tests required constant biopsies and painful procedures, none of the inmates experienced long-term harm.

28. Henrietta Lacks


Image SourceIn 1955, Henrietta Lacks, a poor, uneducated African-American woman from Baltimore, was the unwitting source of cells which where then cultured for the purpose of medical research. Though researchers had tried to grow cells before, Henrietta’s were the first successfully kept alive and cloned. Henrietta’s cells, known as HeLa cells, have been instrumental in the development of the polio vaccine, cancer research, AIDS research, gene mapping, and countless other scientific endeavors. Henrietta died penniless and was buried without a tombstone in a family cemetery. For decades, her husband and five children were left in the dark about their wife and mother’s amazing contribution to modern medicine.

27. Project QKHILLTOP


Image SourceIn 1954, the CIA developed an experiment called Project QKHILLTOP to study Chinese brainwashing techniques, which they then used to develop new methods of interrogation. Leading the research was Dr. Harold Wolff of Cornell University Medical School. After requesting that the CIA provide him with information on imprisonment, deprivation, humiliation, torture, brainwashing, hypnoses, and more, Wolff’s research team began to formulate a plan through which they would develop secret drugs and various brain damaging procedures. According to a letter he wrote, in order to fully test the effects of the harmful research, Wolff expected the CIA to “make available suitable subjects.”

26. Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study


Image SourceDuring World War II, malaria and other tropical diseases were impeding the efforts of American military in the Pacific. In order to get a grip, the Malaria Research Project was established at Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois. Doctors from the University of Chicago exposed 441 volunteer inmates to bites from malaria-infected mosquitos. Though one inmate died of a heart attack, researchers insisted his death was unrelated to the study. The widely-praised experiment continued at Stateville for 29 years, and included the first human test of Primaquine, a medication still used in the treatment of malaria and Pneumocystis pneumonia.

25. Emma Eckstein and Sigmund Freud


Image SourceDespite seeking the help of Sigmund Freud for vague symptoms like stomach ailments and slight depression, 27-year old Emma Eckstein was “treated” by the German doctor for hysteria and excessive masturbation, a habit then considered dangerous to mental health. Emma’s treatment included a disturbing experimental surgery in which she was anesthetized with only a local anesthetic and cocaine before the inside of her nose was cauterized. Not surprisingly, Emma’s surgery was a disaster. Whether Emma was a legitimate medical patient or a source of more amorous interest for Freud, as a recent movie suggests, Freud continued to treat Emma for three years.

24. Dr. William Beaumont and the Stomach


Image SourceIn 1822, a fur trader on Mackinac Island in Michigan was accidentally shot in the stomach and treated by Dr. William Beaumont. Despite dire predictions, the fur trader survived — but with a hole (fistula) in his stomach that never healed. Recognizing the unique opportunity to observe the digestive process, Beaumont began conducting experiments. Beaumont would tie food to a string, then insert it through the hole in the trader’s stomach. Every few hours, Beaumont would remove the food to observe how it had been digested. Though gruesome, Beaumont’s experiments led to the worldwide acceptance that digestion was a chemical, not a mechanical, process.

23. Electroshock Therapy on Children


Image SourceIn the 1960s, Dr. Lauretta Bender of New York’s Creedmoor Hospital began what she believed to be a revolutionary treatment for children with social issues — electroshock therapy. Bender’s methods included interviewing and analyzing a sensitive child in front of a large group, then applying a gentle amount of pressure to the child’s head. Supposedly, any child who moved with the pressure was showing early signs of schizophrenia. Herself the victim of a misunderstood childhood, Bender was said to be unsympathetic to the children in her care. By the time her treatments were shut down, Bender had used electroshock therapy on over 100 children, the youngest of whom was age three.

22. Project Artichoke


Image SourceIn the 1950s, the CIA’s Office of Scientific Intelligence ran a series of mind control projects in an attempt to answer the question “Can we get control of an individual to the point where he will do our bidding against his will and even against fundamental laws of nature?” One of these programs, Project Artichoke, studied hypnosis, forced morphine addiction, drug withdrawal, and the use of chemicals to incite amnesia in unwitting human subjects. Though the project was eventually shut down in the mid-1960s, the project opened the door to extensive research on the use of mind-control in field operations.

21. Hepatitis in Mentally Disabled Children


Image SourceIn the 1950s, Willowbrook State School, a New York state-run institution for mentally handicapped children, began experiencing outbreaks of hepatitis. Due to unsanitary conditions, it was virtually inevitable that these children would contract hepatitis. Dr. Saul Krugman, sent to investigate the outbreak, proposed an experiment that would assist in developing a vaccine. However, the experiment required deliberately infecting children with the disease. Though Krugman’s study was controversial from the start, critics were eventually silenced by the permission letters obtained from each child’s parents. In reality, offering one’s child to the experiment was oftentimes the only way to guarantee admittance into the overcrowded institution.

20. Operation Midnight Climax


Image SourceInitially established in the 1950s as a sub-project of a CIA-sponsored, mind-control research program, Operation Midnight Climax sought to study the effects of LSD on individuals. In San Francisco and New York, unconsenting subjects were lured to safehouses by prostitutes on the CIA payroll, unknowingly given LSD and other mind-altering substances, and monitored from behind one-way glass. Though the safehouses were shut down in 1965, when it was discovered that the CIA was administering LSD to human subjects, Operation Midnight Climax was a theater for extensive research on sexual blackmail, surveillance technology, and the use of mind-altering drugs on field operations.

19. Study of Humans Accidentally Exposed to Fallout Radiation


Image SourceThe 1954 “Study of Response of Human Beings exposed to Significant Beta and Gamma Radiation due to Fall-out from High-Yield Weapons,” known better as Project 4.1, was a medical study conducted by the U.S. of residents of the Marshall Islands. When the Castle Bravo nuclear test resulted in a yield larger than originally expected, the government instituted a top secret study to “evaluate the severity of radiation injury” to those accidentally exposed. Though most sources agree the exposure was unintentional, many Marshallese believed Project 4.1 was planned before the Castle Bravo test. In all, 239 Marshallese were exposed to significant levels of radiation.

18. The Monster Study


Image SourceIn 1939, University of Iowa researchers Wendell Johnson and Mary Tudor conducted a stuttering experiment on 22 orphan children in Davenport, Iowa. The children were separated into two groups, the first of which received positive speech therapy where children were praised for speech fluency. In the second group, children received negative speech therapy and were belittled for every speech imperfection. Normal-speaking children in the second group developed speech problems which they then retained for the rest of their lives. Terrified by the news of human experiments conducted by the Nazis, Johnson and Tudor never published the results of their “Monster Study.”

17. Project MKUltra


Image SourceProject MKUltra is the code name of a CIA-sponsored research operation that experimented in human behavioral engineering. From 1953 to 1973, the program employed various methodologies to manipulate the mental states of American and Canadian citizens. These unwitting human test subjects were plied with LSD and other mind-altering drugs, hypnosis, sensory deprivation, isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, and various forms of torture. Research occurred at universities, hospitals, prisons, and pharmaceutical companies. Though the project sought to develop “chemical […] materials capable of employment in clandestine operations,” Project MKUltra was ended by a Congress-commissioned investigation into CIA activities within the U.S.

16. Experiments on Newborns


Image SourceIn the 1960s, researchers at the University of California began an experiment to study changes in blood pressure and blood flow. The researchers used 113 newborns ranging in age from one hour to three days old as test subjects. In one experiment, a catheter was inserted through the umbilical arteries and into the aorta. The newborn’s feet were then immersed in ice water for the purpose of testing aortic pressure. In another experiment, up to 50 newborns were individually strapped onto a circumcision board, then tilted so that their blood rushed to their head and their blood pressure could be monitored.


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15. The Aversion Project


Image SourceIn 1969, during South Africa’s detestable Apartheid era, thousands of homosexuals were handed over to the care of Dr. Aubrey Levin, an army colonel and psychologist convinced he could “cure” homosexuals. At the Voortrekkerhoogte military hospital near Pretoria, Levin used electroconvulsive aversion therapy to “reorientate” his patients. Electrodes were strapped to a patient’s upper arm with wires running to a dial calibrated from 1 to 10. Homosexual men were shown pictures of a naked man and encouraged to fantasize, at which point the patient was subjected to severe shocks. When Levin was warned that he would be named an abuser of human rights, he emigrated to Canada where he currently works at a teaching hospital.

14. Medical Experiments on Prison Inmates


Image SourcePerhaps one benefit of being an inmate at California’s San Quentin prison is the easy access to acclaimed Bay Area doctors. But if that’s the case, then a downside is that these doctors also have easy access to inmates. From 1913 to 1951, Dr. Leo Stanley, chief surgeon at San Quentin, used prisoners as test subjects in a variety of bizarre medical experiments. Stanley’s experiments included sterilization and potential treatments for the Spanish Flu. In one particularly disturbing experiment, Stanley performed testicle transplants on living prisoners using testicles from executed prisoners and, in some cases, from goats and boars.

13. Sexual Reassignment


Image SourceIn 1965, Canadian David Peter Reimer was born biologically male. But at seven months old, his penis was accidentally destroyed during an unconventional circumcision by cauterization. John Money, a psychologist and proponent of the idea that gender is learned, convinced the Reimers that their son would be more likely to achieve a successful, functional sexual maturation as a girl. Though Money continued to report only success over the years, David’s own account insisted that he had never identified as female. He spent his childhood teased, ostracized, and seriously depressed. At age 38, David committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.

12. Effect of Radiation on Testicles


Image SourceBetween 1963 and 1973, dozens of Washington and Oregon prison inmates were used as test subjects in an experiment designed to test the effects of radiation on testicles. Bribed with cash and the suggestion of parole, 130 inmates willingly agreed to participate in the experiments conducted by the University of Washington on behalf of the U.S. government. In most cases, subjects were zapped with over 400 rads of radiation (the equivalent of 2,400 chest x-rays) in 10 minute intervals. However, it was much later that the inmates learned the experiments were far more dangerous than they had been told. In 2000, the former participants settled a $2.4 million class-action settlement from the University.

11. Stanford Prison Experiment


Image SourceConducted at Stanford University from August 14-20, 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment was an investigation into the causes of conflict between military guards and prisoners. Twenty-four male students were chosen and randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards. They were then situated in a specially-designed mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Those subjects assigned to be guards enforced authoritarian measures and subjected the prisoners to psychological torture. Surprisingly, many of the prisoners accepted the abuses. Though the experiment exceeded the expectations of all of the researchers, it was abruptly ended after only six days.

10. Syphilis Experiments in Guatemala


Image SourceFrom 1946 to 1948, the United States government, Guatemalan president Juan José Arévalo, and some Guatemalan health ministries, cooperated in a disturbing human experiment on unwitting Guatemalan citizens. Doctors deliberately infected soldiers, prostitutes, prisoners, and mental patients with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases in an attempt to track their untreated natural progression. Treated only with antibiotics, the experiment resulted in at least 30 documented deaths. In 2010, the United States made a formal apology to Guatemala for their involvement in these experiments.

9. Tuskegee Syphilis Study


Image SourceIn 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service began working with the Tuskegee Institute to track the natural progression of untreated syphilis. Six hundred poor, illiterate, male sharecroppers were found and hired in Macon County, Alabama. Of the 600 men, only 399 had previously contracted syphilis, and none were told they had a life threatening disease. Instead, they were told they were receiving free healthcare, meals, and burial insurance in exchange for participating. Even after Penicillin was proven an effective cure for syphilis in 1947, the study continued until 1972. In addition to the original subjects, victims of the study included wives who contracted the disease, and children born with congenital syphilis. In 1997, President Bill Clinton formally apologized to those affected by what is often called the “most infamous biomedical experiment in U.S. history.”

8. Milgram Experiment


In 1961, Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, began a series of social psychology experiments that measured the willingness of test subjects to obey an authority figure. Conducted only three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Milgram’s experiment sought to answer the question, “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?” In the experiment, two participants (one secretly an actor and one an unwitting test subject) were separated into two rooms where they could hear, but not see, each other. The test subject would then read a series of questions to the actor, punishing each wrong answer with an electric shock. Though many people would indicate their desire to stop the experiment, almost all subjects continued when they were told they would not be held responsible, or that there would not be any permanent damage.

7. Infected Mosquitos in Towns


In 1956 and 1957, the United States Army conducted a number of biological warfare experiments on the cities of Savannah, Georgia and Avon Park, Florida. In one such experiment, millions of infected mosquitos were released into the two cities, in order to see if the insects could spread yellow fever and dengue fever. Not surprisingly, hundreds of researchers contracted illnesses that included fevers, respiratory problems, stillbirths, encephalitis, and typhoid. In order to photograph the results of their experiments, Army researchers pretended to be public health workers. Several people died as a result of the research.

6. Human Experimentation in the Soviet Union


Beginning in 1921 and continuing for most of the 21st century, the Soviet Union employed poison laboratories known as Laboratory 1, Laboratory 12, and Kamera as covert research facilities of the secret police agencies. Prisoners from the Gulags were exposed to a number of deadly poisons, the purpose of which was to find a tasteless, odorless chemical that could not be detected post mortem. Tested poisons included mustard gas, ricin, digitoxin, and curare, among others. Men and women of varying ages and physical conditions were brought to the laboratories and given the poisons as “medication,” or part of a meal or drink.

5. Human Experimentation in North Korea


Image SourceSeveral North Korean defectors have described witnessing disturbing cases of human experimentation. In one alleged experiment, 50 healthy women prisoners were given poisoned cabbage leaves — all 50 women were dead within 20 minutes. Other described experiments include the practice of surgery on prisoners without anesthesia, purposeful starvation, beating prisoners over the head before using the zombie-like victims for target practice, and chambers in which whole families are murdered with suffocation gas. It is said that each month, a black van known as “the crow” collects 40-50 people from a camp and takes them to an known location for experiments.

4. Nazi Human Experimentation


Image SourceOver the course of the Third Reich and the Holocaust, Nazi Germany conducted a series of medical experiments on Jews, POWs, Romani, and other persecuted groups. The experiments were conducted in concentration camps, and in most cases resulted in death, disfigurement, or permanent disability. Especially disturbing experiments included attempts to genetically manipulate twins; bone, muscle, and nerve transplantation; exposure to diseases and chemical gasses; sterilization, and anything else the infamous Nazi doctors could think up. After the war, these crimes were tried as part of the Nuremberg Trial and ultimately led to the development of the Nuremberg Code of medical ethics.

3. Unit 731


Image SourceFrom 1937 to 1945, the imperial Japanese Army developed a covert biological and chemical warfare research experiment called Unit 731. Based in the large city of Harbin, Unit 731 was responsible for some of the most atrocious war crimes in history. Chinese and Russian subjects — men, women, children, infants, the elderly, and pregnant women — were subjected to experiments which included the removal of organs from a live body, amputation for the study of blood loss, germ warfare attacks, and weapons testing. Some prisoners even had their stomachs surgically removed and their esophagus reattached to the intestines. Many of the scientists involved in Unit 731 rose to prominent careers in politics, academia, business, and medicine.

2. Radioactive Materials in Pregnant Women


Image SourceShortly after World War II, with the impending Cold War forefront on the minds of Americans, many medical researchers were preoccupied with the idea of radioactivity and chemical warfare. In an experiment at Vanderbilt University, 829 pregnant women were given “vitamin drinks” they were told would improve the health of their unborn babies. Instead, the drinks contained radioactive iron and the researchers were studying how quickly the radioisotope crossed into the placenta. At least seven of the babies later died from cancers and leukemia, and the women themselves experienced rashes, bruises, anemia, loss of hair and tooth, and cancer.

1. Mustard Gas Tested on American Military


Image SourceIn 1943, the U.S. Navy exposed its own sailors to mustard gas. Officially, the Navy was testing the effectiveness of new clothing and gas masks against the deadly gas that had proven so terrifying in the first World War. The worst of the experiments occurred at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington. Seventeen and 18-year old boys were approached after eight weeks of boot camp and asked if they wanted to participate in an experiment that would help shorten the war. Only when the boys reached the Research Laboratory were they told the experiment involved mustard gas. The participants, almost all of whom suffered severe external and internal burns, were ignored by the Navy and, in some cases, threatened with the Espionage Act. In 1991, the reports were finally declassified and taken before Congress.


Questionable and unethical medical experiments have existed and persisted since the
creation of the field of medicine. In the 20th century, the United States was a nation that acted as
though they were the moral police and ultimate judges on humanitarian crisis such as unethical
medical experiments. In reality, the United States was performing and endorsing unethical
medical practices, as well as creating and funding the entire pseudoscience of eugenics, at the
same time they were condemning others for doing so. The subsequent “codes of ethics” that were
created allowed for the continuation of unethical practices throughout the 20th century and still
today. The remembrance and examination of the dark reality and history of unethical medical
practice in the United States is of the utmost importance as scientific and medical advancements
are continuing to progress, and are doing so at speeds faster than we are often able to react and
examine the potential moral repercussions.

The United States often acts as the moral police of the world, imposing our righteous
beliefs on others and acting as though we are the gold standard against which all other nations
should be compared. On the other hand, Germany, and their admittedly horrific eugenic policies
in WWII, is often looked upon as being the worst example of a morally upright country,
particularly with respect to human life and ethical principles.

However, as shown here, the United States is far from the morally upright nation we
claim to be, particularly when it comes to medical ethics and respect for human life. Our eugenic
policies not only allowed for the forced sterilization of thousands of Americans, but directly
influenced and encouraged the German’s race ideals in WWII. We then, acting as judges over
the Germans, set forth an ineffective group of medical ethics guidelines known as the Nuremberg
Code, that we did not consider to really be applicable to our own nation. Time after time,
medical researchers in the United States have directly violated nearly every principle found in
the Nuremberg Code. From not gaining informed consent, to deliberately withholding
treatments, the United States has repeatedly and clearly expressed a disregard and lack of respect
for the autonomy of persons, placing scientific advancement ahead of human life.

Moving forward, as genetics and medical science continues to advance, scientists and
physicians in the US need to be careful to remember our own history. Many of the advancements
have developed out of the unethical eugenic practices of the past, and we need to be careful to
not allow ourselves to continue them into the future. Taking the time to analyze and remember
these past mistakes will be crucial in moving forward as science progresses, as history has shown
that America is all too willing to dip into the realm of unethical experiments in the name of
science, and that mindset must be addressed and eliminated as we move forward.

Resources, “Here’s a List of Vulnerable Populations Historically Exploited in U.S. Research Studies.”;, “In the Name of the Child: Health and Welfare, 1880-1940.” By Roger Cooter;, “10 Disturbing Cases Of Unethical STI Experiments.” by David Dee;, “5 Unethical Medical Experiments Brought Out of the Shadows of History: Prisoners and other vulnerable populations often bore the brunt of unethical medical experimentation.” By Allison Futterman;, “Unethical human experimentation.’ by Wikipedia editors;, “9 evil medical experiments.” By Stephanie Pappas Callum McKelvie ;, “Unethical experiments’ painful contributions to today’s medicine.” By Nina Avramova;, “30 Most Unethical Psychology Human Experiments.”;

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