The Corner

Bold, Persistent Experimentation*

From a reader:

Jonah,

Excellent column.  In July 1966, Dr. Henry K. Beecher published an article in New England Journal that included 22 examples of egregious experiments that were published in the medical literature.  (Beecher, HK, “Ethics and Clinical Research,” NEJM 274: 1354-60, 1966)  Many of the experiments included people of pallor.  My favorite was the one where doctors took some melanoma from a child and transplanted it into her mother to see if they could develop treatments for her daughter.  Well, that’s what the doctors told her.  The child died the next day.  The mother died 18 months later from metastatic melanoma.  Using people for unethical experiments was quite common during the 20th century.  In fact, children were the preferable “guinea pigs” because animals were so valuable.  An excellent resource on this is Strangers at the Bedside, by David J. Rothman.  BasicBooks, 1991.

You are exactly right to lay this at the feet of progressives and “enlightened” government.  Prior to World War II, unethical experiments were fairly small scale, but after the government started pouring money into research and scientists were being propagandized as our saviors from the communists (I see Derb was well-indoctrinated), the size of those experiments took off.  The polio vaccine is an example of a huge government sponsored experiment conducted without any informed consent.  The result was good, but the means were odious.  Willowbrook in New York was another example, however, the results were not good and the means were even more odious.  I take that back about the results:  it launched Geraldo Rivera’s career.  So there was some good.

* Hopefully some people got the reference

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