Human Experimentation at Peace and Wartime

American doctors determined that the USA tested biological weapons in Iraq

Scientific experiments on humans are basically connected with testing new medications. Fyodor Komarov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the chairman of the ethics committee of the federal administration for quality, efficiency and safety control of medical drugs, gave an interview about that to the Russian newspaper Version.

As far as I know, the international system, which regulates the rules for attracting people to participate in scientific research, was formed after WWII.

Prior to the war, scientists were guided with other laws. After the war, when the world saw, which victims scientific experiments could lead to, after the trial on Nazi doctors, the world community formulated certain ethical recommendations. There are a lot of acts to regulate the issue. This is the Helsinki Treaty, first and foremost, which was signed in 1964. There were a lot of other recommendations passed for the doctors, who were involved in bio-medical research. The document was edited in 1975, 1983, 1989, 1996 and in 2000. All those documents stipulated techniques for conducting any kind of scientific research, in which human beings were implicated. International ethical rules of bio-medical research with the participation of human beings were passed in 1993. In 1998 the Russian Ministry for Healthcare approved the rules for conducting high-quality clinical tests in the Russian Federation. The law “About Medications” was passed in the country the same year. Any kinds of clinical tests are first supposed to be coordinated and approved. In addition to it, every country has certain peculiarities about that. There are ethical committees in each country, in certain scientific or medical fields, in regions and scientific centers. Our committee protects the rights and health of those people, who take part in drug tests.

Will you please specify the process of testing new medications?

Such tests usually last up to ten years. They are preceded with pre-clinical tests on animals – from flies to monkeys. When the animal testing is over, a new drug is tested on people. First of all, a drug is tested on volunteers. Scientists explain to them, what they are going to test, which tests they are going to conduct, and which results were achieved as a result of animal testing. After that volunteers sign special contracts, in which they confirm that they agree upon every condition of those tests. This kind of research is needed in order to find out the effect that a drug will have on a human body, to identify possible side effects. After doctors succeed with volunteers, they test a drug on patients, for whom it was actually made. They explain and specify everything to them too, and the latter sign adequate papers. Such tests can last for years.

Are there a lot of volunteers at present in comparison with their number during the Soviet era, for example?

I have never heard that Russian specialists suffered from the lack of volunteers. Most often, people agree to take part in medical tests, because they want to show their appreciation to doctors, to medicine on the whole, to be more precise. They want to thank the science of medicine for saving their relatives from death. We have volunteers, who participate in testing foreign drugs too. Let’s assume that there is a firm, which wants to sell its medication in Russia. It presents all necessary documents to our committee, while we are obliged to carry out our own tests anyway, no matter if that medication is already available in many countries of the world.

In other words, this happens not because of their wish to test a drug on Russian people, instead of “poisoning” their own country-fellows?

Of course, no one uses Russian people as a test ground. A firm like that will have to test its production in all countries, where it is willing to sell it. We will review all their documents in order to find out the results of previous tests in other countries. Only after that we will allow to test a drug on Russian people, to be on the safe side. This is a normal procedure. Our committee has been working for two years only, although we have already studied 939 documents about various medicines. As a result, we allowed to test about 60% of those medicines in Russia. The rest of them were sent for further development.

In the United States of America they write a lot about such incidents, when doctors tested medicines on people without their consent for that, for example, on prisoners or soldiers. Is it possible in Russia too?

I do not think that it might be possible. It would be very hard to arrange such research with the control system, which works in the world today.

What can you say about the tests that Nazi doctors conducted on concentration camp prisoners during WWII? Do you think that up-to-date medicine should use the results of those tests, taking into consideration the fact that they were totally inhuman? What is the ethical conception of modern medicine about that?

This problem is not actual nowadays. It is a very hard dilemma, and I would not like to talk about it.

What can you say about doctors’ actions in the Chelyabinsk region, when they studied radiation exposure consequences at a radiation factory over there? Do you think that those doctors made extremely important conclusions as a result of that work?

Well, it happened long time ago, that time was totally different, so I do not think that it is possible to understand or estimate something. On the whole, this is a very complicated ethical issue too, and I can not give a precise answer to that.

Examples of human experimentation are numerous in history

So-called Unit 731 was set up in Japan in the beginning of the 1930s. The unit was disguised as an epidemic-prevention group, although it was involved in creating and testing biological weapons. Japan was the first country in the world, which used those weapons. A biological weapon was considered to be a priority in Japan, because the country was not rich with mineral resources for producing other kinds of weapons. There were three lieutenant generals, six major generals, ten colonels, more than 20 lieutenant colonels and majors, 300 officers and ensigns in the unit. They commanded Japan’s best scientists. When the unit was disbanded at the end of the war, there were more than two thousand people in it. Japan had other units like that too, for example, the Tama Unit in Central China. Yet, Unit 731 was considered to be the most important one. Japanese doctors spread germs with bombs and shells. They dropped germ bombs from planes, infecting residential areas, fields and pastures. They conducted human experimentation as well. Their victims were Russian and Chinese soldiers, intelligence officers and criminals. Unit 731 doctors infected its captives with plague, cholera and typhus, and studied the ailment development process. The doctors put others inside a pressure chamber to see how much the body can withstand before the eyes pop from their sockets. Some of Unit 731 archives were then owned by American and Soviet specialists, who used Japanese doctors’ results in their research as well. Shiro Ishii, Unit 731 Commander, used the results of his work after the war was over. Under the pretext of vaccination, he injected prussic acid to security guards and cashiers of a large Japanese bank and then robbed it. Shiro Ishii was seized later. The Japanese government has recently ordered to strike any mentioning of infamous Unit 731 out of its history books.

Using people in medical research

“In 1993 my brother Scott fell ill with a weird disease. His body was covered with rash, it looked like his blood was boiling underneath his skin. He was treated of that ailment for a long time, although he died a year later. Scott was a veteran of the “Storm in the Desert” operation. His disease was diagnosed as lupus.” This sickness is rather frequent amid those men, who have been through the war in the Persian Gulf. There are more and more documents exposed at present, which prove that American chemical companies and biological laboratories used the war for their own purposes.

Human experimentation has become a lot more frequent in the USA over 20 years. The National Healthcare Institute was founded in the USA in 1930. In 1946 the institute received 700 thousand dollars from the state budget, in 1955 – 36 million and in 1970 – 1.5 billion dollars. It is known that there were eleven thousands grants given with that money. About one-third of those grants was meant for human experimentation labs. The clinical center of the institute allegedly guaranteed its volunteers that they would have a possibility to get acquainted with all the information about those tests. As it turns out now, it was not true. American laboratories used prisoners for their experiments. Prisoners did not know that they took part in tests. In Oregon, for example, doctors studied prisoners’ sperm after so-called X-ray exposure. At times doctors did not make them penicillin injections deliberately in order to study alternative methods of treatment. There was an incident, when doctors transplanted cancer cells to 22 patients of an elderly people’s shelter in Brooklyn in order to study the cancer aetiology.

As research showed, about a half of soldiers, who took part in the “Storm in the Desert” operation, returned back to their homes being infected with strange diseases. Biologists Gart and Nancy Nickolson from Molecular Medicine Institute in California supposed that it was a serious and a well-known infection, which could be cured with antibiotics. They also supposed that such an infection could not emerge in the Persian Gulf in a natural way. They said that American soldiers were infected as a result of biological weapons testing. It turned out later that prisoners of one of Texan prisons had the same symptoms. The Nickolsons determined that two various groups of their patients suffered from one and the same ailment. They could not examine Persian Gulf citizens, although it was informed that local residents suffered from strange diseases as well. The symptoms, which were described by Asian doctors, looked very much like the ones American citizens had. About 25% of the Persian Gulf population complained of those symptoms. About 250 thousand people died by 1996. Such information was received from Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman.

Version St.Petersburg


Translated by Dmitry Sudakov

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Author`s name: Editorial Team