The Shocking History of Human Medical Experimentation in the United States
Human experimentation -- the practice of subjecting live human beings to science experiments that are sometimes cruel, painful, or deadly -- is a major part of U.S. history that you won't find in most history or science books. It is still continuing today. Here are a few examples, out of many more. They are not for the faint of heart:
1845: J. Marion Sims, later hailed as the "father of gynecology," performs medical experiments on enslaved African women without anesthesia. These women would usually die of infection soon after surgery. Because of his belief that the movement of newborns' skull bones during protracted births causes trismus, he uses a shoemaker's awl, a pointed tool shoemakers use to make holes in leather, to practice moving the skull bones of babies born to enslaved mothers.
1895: New York pediatrician Henry Heiman infects a 4-year-old boy whom he calls "an idiot with chronic epilepsy" with gonorrhea as part of a medical experiment.
1906: Harvard professor Dr. Richard Strong infects prisoners in the Philippines with cholera to study the disease; 13 of them die. He compensates survivors with cigars and cigarettes. During the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi doctors cite this study to justify their own medical experiments.
1919: Researchers perform testicular transplant experiments on inmates at San Quentin State Prison in California, inserting the testicles of recently executed inmates and goats into the abdomens and scrotums of living prisoners.
1931: Cornelius Rhoads, a pathologist from the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, purposely infects human test subjects in Puerto Rico with cancer cells; 13 of them die. Though Rhoads gives a written testimony stating he believes that all Puerto Ricans should be killed, he later goes on to establish the U.S. Army Biological Warfare facilities in Maryland, Utah and Panama, and is named to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, where he begins a series of radiation exposure experiments on American soldiers and civilian hospital patients.
1932: The U.S. Public Health Service in Tuskegee, Ala. diagnoses 400 poor, black sharecroppers with syphilis but never tells them of their illness nor treats them; instead researchers use the men as human guinea pigs to follow the symptoms and progression of the disease. They all eventually die from syphilis and their families are never told that they could have been treated.
1939: In order to test his theory on the roots of stuttering, prominent speech pathologist Dr. Wendell Johnson performs his famous "Monster Experiment" on 22 children at the Iowa Soldiers' Orphans' Home in Davenport. Dr. Johnson and his graduate students put the children under intense psychological pressure, causing them to switch from speaking normally to stuttering heavily.
1944: As part of the Manhattan Project that would eventually create the atomic bomb, researchers inject 4.7 micrograms of plutonium into soldiers at the Oak Ridge facility, 20 miles west of Knoxville, Tennessee.
1956: U.S. Army covert biological weapons researchers release mosquitoes infected with yellow fever and dengue fever over Savannah, Georgia, and Avon Park, Florida, to test the insects' ability to carry disease. These experiments result in a high incidence of fevers, respiratory distress, stillbirths, encephalitis and typhoid among the two cities' residents, as well as several deaths.
1962: Researchers at the Laurel Children's Center in Maryland test experimental acne antibiotics on children and continue their tests even after half of the young test subjects develop severe liver damage because of the experimental medication .
1963: Chester M. Southam, who injected Ohio State Prison inmates with live cancer cells in 1952, performs the same procedure on 22 senile, African-American female patients at the Brooklyn Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in order to watch their immunological response. Southam tells the patients that they are receiving "some cells," but leaves out the fact that they are cancer cells. He claims he doesn't obtain informed consent from the patients because he does not want to frighten them by telling them what he is doing, but he nevertheless temporarily loses his medical license because of it. Ironically, he eventually becomes president of the American Cancer Society.
1987: Philadelphia resident Doris Jackson discovers that researchers have removed her son's brain post mortem for medical study. She later learns that the state of Pennsylvania has a doctrine of "implied consent," meaning that unless a patient signs a document stating otherwise, consent for organ removal is automatically implied.
1994: In a double-blind experiment at New York VA Hospital, researchers take 23 schizophrenic inpatients off of their medications for a median of 30 days. They then give 17 of them 0.5 mg/kg amphetamine and six a placebo as a control. According to the researchers, the purpose of the experiment was "to specifically evaluate metabolic effects in subjects with varying degrees of amphetamine-induced psychotic exacerbation".
1995: A 19-year-old University of Rochester student named Nicole Wan dies from participating in an MIT-sponsored experiment that tests airborne pollutant chemicals on humans. The experiment pays $150 to human test subjects.
2003: Two-year-old Michael Daddio of Delaware dies of congestive heart failure. After his death, his parents learn that doctors had performed an experimental surgery on him when he was five months old, rather than using the established surgical method of repairing his congenital heart defect that the parents had been told would be performed. The established procedure has a 90- to 95-percent success rate, whereas the inventor of the new procedure would later be fired from his hospital.