PUBLIC HEALTH - SOCIAL ISSUES

Experimenting on humans

During the 1940’s, researchers from the United States’ National Institute of Health (NIH) deliberately infected over 1,400 Guatemalan prisoners, prostitutes, and mental health patients with various sexually-transmitted diseases in order to assess the effectiveness of penicillin treatment protocols. Similarly, over the course of a decade beginning in 1963, 131 convicted offenders in the Oregon and Washington State prison systems were exploited to determine the effects of irradiation on testicular function. Also during the 1960s, at least three separate psychotherapy research teams in the United States and the Netherlands administered psychedelic compounds such as LSD and psilocybin to inmates in unsuccessful attempts to modify behavior and reduce recidivism. Researchers also purportedly conducted experiments on prisoners which involved simulating explosive burns, injecting live cancer cells, castrating, and shocking therapies. Though acts of fraud, assault, and murder are generally punished in accordance with the law, researchers who have engaged in these activities in the course of scientific inquiry have historically evaded sanction, largely due to their comparably heightened social status. While such extreme examples of disreputable medical studies are no longer common due to subsequent government intervention in the 1970’s, they serve as a reminder of the need for ethics policies.

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