Unethical human experimentation in the United States

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“Numerous experiments performed on human test subjects in the United States have been considered unethical, as they were performed illegally or without the knowledge, consent, or informed consent of the test subjects. Such tests have occurred throughout American history, but particularly in the 20th century. The experiments include the exposure of humans to many chemical and biological weapons (including infection with deadly or debilitating diseases), human radiation experiments, injection of toxic and radioactive chemicals, surgical experiments, interrogation and torture experiments, tests involving mind-altering substances, and a wide variety of others. Many of these tests were performed on children,[1] the sick, and mentally disabled individuals, often under the guise of “medical treatment”. In many of the studies, a large portion of the subjects were poor, racial minorities, or prisoners.

Many of these experiments violated US law. Some others were sponsored by government agencies or rogue elements thereof, including the Centers for Disease Control, the United States military, and the Central Intelligence Agency, or by private corporations involved with military activities.[2][3][4] The human research programs were usually highly secretive and performed without the knowledge or authorization of Congress, and in many cases information about them was not released until many years after the studies had been performed.

The ethical, professional, and legal implications of this in the United States medical and scientific community were quite significant, and led to many institutions and policies that attempted to ensure that future human subject research in the United States would be ethical and legal. Public outrage in the late 20th century over the discovery of government experiments on human subjects led to numerous congressional investigations and hearings, including the Church Committee and Rockefeller Commission, both of 1975, and the 1994 Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, among others.”

“Pharmacological research

At Harvard University, in the late 1940s, researchers began performing experiments in which they tested diethylstilbestrol, a synthetic estrogen, on pregnant women at the Lying-In Hospital of the University of Chicago. The women experienced an abnormally high number of miscarriages and babies with low birth weight (LBW). None of the women were told that they were being experimented on.[166]

In 1962, researchers at the Laurel Children’s Center in Maryland tested experimental acne medications on children. They continued their tests even after half of the children developed severe liver damage from the medications.[88]

In 2004, University of Minnesota research participant Dan Markingson committed suicide while enrolled in an industry-sponsored pharmaceutical trial comparing three FDA-approved atypical antipsychotics: Seroquel (quetiapine), Zyprexa (olanzapine), and Risperdal (risperidone). Writing on the circumstances surrounding Markingson’s death in the study, which was designed and funded by Seroquel manufacturer AstraZeneca, University of Minnesota Professor of Bioethics Carl Elliott noted that Markingson was enrolled in the study against the wishes of his mother, Mary Weiss, and that he was forced to choose between enrolling in the study or being involuntarily committed to a state mental institution.[167] Further investigation revealed financial ties to AstraZeneca by Markingson’s psychiatrist, Dr. Stephen C. Olson, oversights and biases in AstraZeneca’s trial design, and the inadequacy of university Institutional Review Board (IRB) protections for research subjects.[168] A 2005 FDA investigation cleared the university. Nonetheless, controversy around the case has continued. A Mother Jones article[169] resulted in a group of university faculty members sending a public letter to the university Board of Regents urging an external investigation into Markingson’s death.[170]”


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