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6 Unethical Experiments Authorized by the Government

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Fin lives in California's Central Valley and is interested in social issues.

Skid Row cancer study

Skid Row cancer study

The Need for Ethics in Science

Without experimentation, there would be no advancement. We would not have had some of the vaccines or the safety precautions that we have today had there not been scientists who were willing to practice trials.

Sometimes those trials involved living animals and would probably be judged cruel and unnecessary by today's standards. Think of some of the experiments done in Pasteur's time or even in the early 20th century. Animals have long been used as subjects to help determine the effect of medicines on living beings. Their efforts helped us understand how the cardiovascular and other systems function.

But what about when the experiments are done on people without their permission or knowledge? Is this an ethical dilemma?

Note: I am not trying to make any claims against the persons involved in the following studies. Nor am I going to share anything new with you or details that have not been released. What I am covering is just a small sample of some of the studies that have been authorized by the powers that be, hopefully for the good.

What I do want people to know is that there are things that have been going on, even in the past decades, which you might not be aware of. If it happened before, it can happen again.

Unethical Experiments Authorized by the Government

  • World War II Mustard Gas Experiments
  • Guatemalan Syphilis Experiment
  • Tuskegee Experiment
  • Sonoma State Hospital's Experiments on Children
  • The Skid Row Cancer Study
  • Operation Midnight Climax

Mustard Gas Experiments

One of the tests which were done on American soldiers during the World War II era involved mustard gas. There were three main ways in which the substance was administered:

  • Swabbing: A substance was wiped on the soldiers' forearms.
  • Field Tests: Soldiers were sprayed while engaged in maneuvers.
  • Chambers: Soldiers were locked in rooms and the gas was deployed.

Information concerning these tests was released in the 1990s, although there is still a lot to be declassified.

National Public Radio (NPR) has some articles available on this and makes note about the influence of race. I personally think that some of the writing out there tries to make the implication that certain soldiers were singled out because of their race. In fact, it seems that many ethnic groups were selected in order to determine if the gas affected people with different backgrounds in distinctive manners.

Either way, the fact that the soldiers were administered a serious toxin—under direct orders—seems alarming in many senses. There are those, however, who might say that this is nothing new and should not be surprising.

Think about the atomic weapons testing where soldiers were asked to give their feedback on their perceptions during a blast. Agent orange? And the most recent conflicts—were there not exposures there, too?

The question that does come to mind, though: If the United States Military is designing weapons, don't they need to know how effective they are? And aren't the best guinea pigs the soldiers themselves?

Venereal Disease

There are several times when the United States has been accused of being involved in the creation and testing of diseases on unsuspecting victims. Two of the more well-known included the Guatemalan and Tuskegee experiments.

Guatemalan Syphilis Experiment

This was a series of tests done on the transmission of STDs and to measure the effectiveness of penicillin. Prisoners, prostitutes, and mental health patients were infected with the disease intentionally. Initially, the prostitutes were infected and attempts at "natural" disease transmission were to be studied. However, the rates were not high enough to measure, so scientists purposely infected more candidates without their knowing. It's estimated that over 5,500 people were knowingly inoculated with the disease initially.

One author writes: "On October 1, 2010, U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, having been informed of the Guatemala experiments, contacted the president of Guatemala, Álvaro Colom, to apologize for the unethical nature of the research" (Karla Rogers).

Tuskegee Experiment

The experiments at the Tuskegee were similar in the sense that medical professionals wanted to observe the effects of the disease on the human body. Several hundred African American soldiers—mostly the sons and grandsons of slaves—were invited to participate in a program that involved free medical care.

Even though the doctors knew that the patients were infected with the disease, treatment was withheld. Several hundred men went blind and insane from the disease. The doctors simply informed the men that their blood was bad, and no real medical care was provided.

Again, there was a presidential apology for what had gone on. Is it possible other groups were tested in a similar manner? Is it thinkable to believe these things are still happening?


Sonoma State Hospital

According to available information—and much of it is limited —Sonoma State Hospital at one time served as a housing center for children. Most of the children were born with slight disabilities: cleft plates, cerebal palsy etc. This was an era when people who were born different were often institutionalized. Many were labeled developmentally disabled.

The experiments at Sonoma State mostly involved exposing children to radiation and observing the effects. There was really no benefit from the tests and many of them had painful side effects and left the victims suffering or dead.

One medical historian, Susan Lederer, is quoted as saying that using captive populations meant big money for medical researchers: "It would even be an advantage in applying for grant money, because you don't have to go to the problem of recruiting subjects."

Even though this experiment has been discussed in the media, many of the records are unavailable. People who worked there knew little about the radiation treatments on children.

In 2003, one former patient, "Charlie," asked for an apology from the state. "The state says it never tried to find any victims, and when it comes to money there is no fund for reparations," is what one news article says.


Using the Homeless

Sometimes referred to as the Skid Row Cancer study, this experiment involved homeless men in New York City who were recruited for a study on prostate cancer. They were promised three square meals a day, a place to sleep, and medical care.

One of the things that made this experiment unethical is the fact that the participants were not informed that there were side effects to the trials. Many experienced results such as rectal tearing, permanent impotence, and risks for more serious ailments such as heart disease. The study was not very well done, and there was no control group.

There are many who say that the homeless today are also subjected to recruiting by pharmaceutical companies or other agencies. The homeless as a group are a vulnerable population, and it certainly is more cost-effective for companies to engage in exploitation rather than recruit subjects (who are compensated) that would be more aware of any potential risks.


Operation Midnight Climax

Think about the government opening a brothel where drugs were not only available but administered to many people without their consent. That basically summarizes the activities which were done in Operation Midnight Climax—part of a series of (mind control) experiments referred to as MK-Ultra.

Basically, the government hired sex workers in areas such as San Francisco to bring clients back to their locations. These were government-sponsored brothels. While there, the clients would be administered mind-altering substances such as LSD so that agents could see what effects the drug would have.

Often there were officers who would watch the performance through two-way mirrors in the rooms. Clients were completely unaware they were given anything. They were then left on their own—to return home—and who knows what might have happened to them.

One report says that it became necessary for the CIA to expand its range of studies and look at public areas such as taverns, parks, and beaches.

Think about the various ways in which this "study" is unethical. How many levels of privacy and decency do you think were breached?

One article I came across talked about a client who was hallucinating and fell from a window or jumped.

The Story of the CIA's Involvement in LSD Experiments

All in the Name of Progress?

As I said, this is just a shortlist of some of the experiments that were either done by the government or authorized by those in positions of power. You may be familiar with some of these, and there are certainly many more that will remain unknown.

What shouldn't surprise you is the fact that often the victims are members of vulnerable populations or in at-risk positions when they were preyed upon. No one should be part of a study without their consent or given false promises to encourage participation.

Furthermore, in most of these experiments, there really was no purpose. Mustard gas is known to be harmful, and to test it on different races to see if one group was more immune than another is pointless. Giving people harmful drugs without their consent? What if one of them did something harmful to themselves? In fact, in one report on the MK Ultra, it was said that one man under the influence "fell" out a window.

There are those who will argue that there is no real way to test the progress of a disease without doing some harm, whether to laboratory rats or humans. And if someone is willing—such as a prisoner or a homeless person—to be infected with cancer to test treatments, should that be allowed?

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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Finn