In this June 25, 1945 picture, army doctors expose patients to malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the malaria ward at Stateville Penitentiary in Crest Hill, Ill. Around the time of World War II, prisoners were enlisted to help the war effort by participating in studies that could help the troops. A series of malaria studies at Stateville Penitentiary in Illinois and two other penitentiaries were designed to test antimalarial drugs that could help soldiers fighting in the Pacific. Shocking as it may seem, government doctors once thought it was fine to experiment on disabled people and prison inmates.
By MIKE STOBBE,
ATLANTA – Shocking as it may seem, U.S. government doctors once thought it was fine to experiment on disabled people and prison inmates. Such experiments included giving hepatitis to mental patients in Connecticut, squirting a pandemic flu virus up the noses of prisoners in Maryland, and injecting cancer cells into chronically ill people at a New York hospital.
Much of this horrific history is 40 to 80 years old, but it is the backdrop for a meeting in Washington this week by a presidential bioethics commission. The meeting was triggered by the government’s apology last fall for federal doctors infecting prisoners and mental patients in Guatemala with syphilis 65 years ago.
U.S. officials also acknowledged there had been dozens of similar experiments in the United States — studies that often involved making healthy people sick.
An exhaustive review by The Associated Press of medical journal reports and decades-old press clippings found more than 40 such studies. At best, these were a search for lifesaving treatments; at worst, some amounted to curiosity-satisfying experiments that hurt people but provided no useful results.
Inevitably, they will be compared to the well-known Tuskegee syphilis study. In that episode, U.S. health officials tracked 600 black men in Alabama who already had syphilis but didn’t give them adequate treatment even after penicillin became available.
These studies were worse in at least one respect — they violated the Read more…