By Mirella Ionta
We have all heard about human experiments. Just search under the key words "human experiment" on Google Search Engine and surely you will find the top ten list of the cruellest research studies of the 1900s, some of which attached a medical rhetoric rationalizing their scientific value, while others were shamelessly performed in times of war and hatred. From the infamous concentration camp infernos of the Nazi Germans to The Monster Study, an experiment conducted on twenty-two orphan children in Iowa in 1939, to the Poison laboratory of the Soviets secret services, known as The Chamber to Unit 731, a bio-chemical warfare unit of the Imperial Japanese Army existing in the pause between the two World Wars, disturbing images and reports of the vivisection of pregnant women and the barbaric treatment of human subjects continue to haunt the credibility of both the medical community and governmental organizations.
Horrid stories confirm that human experiments were indeed performed on every continent of the world at one point in history. Some were reported to have been running in the United States until the 1970s. Some will even go as far to argue that still today medical science continually utilize their patients without their knowledge or consent to try out or "test" a new medication as though they were "guinea pigs." Psychiatry has been infamous for testing their "brain drugs" on people who are easily diagnosed as suffering from depression without fully having the knowledge of the root of this disease, nor its proper treatment.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, ran by the U.S. Public Health and Service Department, from 1932 until 1972, was a medical investigation of untreated syphilis in the male Negro. Oriented in the Tuskegee community in Alabama, where it was reported that high rates of syphilis were the most prevalent in the country, the study affected 399 infected African American male subjects and 201 controls. Researchers, during the forty years the study ran, withheld treatment from the males and, on occasion, prevented the provision of treatment from outside sources. They also did not obtain the "informed consent" of the participants, although this concept pertaining to medical research was legally not defined until the 1960s.
PHS discontinued the study only after the press released accounts in 1972. By this time, only seventy-one subjects were alive. Did the study, in its historical context, have any scientific value? Many critics believe that the nature of the experiment was racist and the reasons it was undertaken in the first place were biased. The uninformed ideas adopted by the medical profession at the time concerning disease, sex, and African Americans, served as a faulty rationale for the study.
Moreover, the U.S. Public Health and Service Department's not providing effective treatment to the subjects and the medical community's failure to re-assess the scientific value of the experiment during the forty years it was ongoing raise many concerns about the unethical treatment of humans deceived into consenting to be subjects of a medical study.
The participants were indeed deceived into taking part in the study. Told they had "bad blood" and could receive free medical treatment, rides to the clinic, and meals, one of the goals of the research was to determine if patients could survive or could live on without treatment, which at the time the study began, was considered toxic. Basically, the patients were misled into believing that there was some sort of hope for a remedy for syphilis at the time and they were to be the first to receive effective treatment. Instead, to their dismay, they were only there so that the fatal progression of their disease would be observed. When penicillin became an effective remedy in the 1940s for this disease, the subjects were still denied antibiotic therapy in spite of the new developments made toward treating syphilis.
It is quite alarming how obviously blatant and tactless the PHS were in viewing syphilis as a disease that solely affected African American males. The intrinsic racism of the study was never harshly attacked by an investigatory panel, which never outlined the disturbing fact that the intention of the PHS was never to provide effective medication to the males during the course of the study. Even when penicillin was widely available in the 1950s, there was no re-assessment of the purpose of the study.
One would think that once a cure was found and approved, the experiment would be a case closed, and the subjects would be treated as regular patients of a hospital diagnosed with the same medical condition. There would be no need for another 20 or 30 years of tampering with these lives. Sadly, this is just one proven example, in a sea of reports, of an organized attempt to make human experiments seem legitimate in the name of "scientific" advancement.