Appendix 65b - Voluntary Manslaughter

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

In an attempt to justify of their own activities, some of the German doctors on trial at Nuremberg cited American experiments as part of their defense.[769]

A Few Good Mengeles

One Nazi doctor cited in his defense the work of American Colonel Dr. Richard P. Strong - later Professor of Tropical Medicine at Harvard - who infected Philippine convicts with cholera and the bubonic plague, killing 18 people. Survivors were compensated with cigars and cigarettes.[770]

A Dachau doc referred to the work of public health official Dr. Goldberger, who in 1915 produced the disease pellegra in Mississippi convicts. One test subject said that he had been through, "a thousand hells," and another swore he would choose a lifetime of hard labor rather than go through such an experiment again.[771]

Also cited were a series of experiments conducted in 1944 in a Chicago prison where 441 convicts were infected with malaria. British Medical Journal commentary: "One of the nicest American scientists I know was heard to say: 'Criminals in our penitentiaries are fine experimental material - and much cheaper than chimpanzees.'"[772]

Some American experiments on prisoners were not mentioned at Nuremburg. For example, a doctor in the California prison system spent four years transplanting testicles from recently executed convicts into senile men. By 1920, he had improved on the technique, implanting pieces of goat testicle "the size of a silver dollar" into the scrotums or abdominal walls of inmates.[773]

All of these experiments used convicts. The Germans used the same excuse. From Nazi Doctors: "Time and again, the doctors who froze screaming subjects to death, watched their brains explode as a result of rapid compression... stated that only prisoners condemned to death were used."[774]

Acres of Skin

While the Nazi experiments were stopped, there was tremendous expansion in prison experimentation in postwar America. The world now had the Nuremberg Code though, whose first principle precluded the use of prisoners. The American medical community either claimed ignorance of the document or ignored it.

Federal prisoners, for example, were enlisted in a broad range of clinical studies that included... hepatitis, syphilis, and amebic dysentery, and additional malaria experiments. State prisoners were considered to be equally valuable and were soon utilized for studies of... flash burns 'which might result from atomic bomb attacks.'

The Ohio state prison system, for example, allowed researchers from the Sloan Kettering Institute... to inject at least 396 inmates at the Ohio State Prison with live cancer cells so researchers could study the progression of the disease. Between 1963 and 1971, radioactive thymidine, a genetic compound, was injected into the testicles of more than one hundred prisoners at the Oregon State Penitentiary to see whether the rate of sperm production was affected by exposure to steroid hormones.

Professor Emeritus of Dermatology Albert Kligman - multi-millionaire inventor of Retin-A - was paid by the Dow Chemical Company to test the effects of dioxin on human subjects. Kligman applied the most powerful known carcinogen to the skin of 70 prisoners. In 1966, Kligman said to a reporter - speaking of his access to Holmesburg prisoners - "All I saw before me were acres of skin.... It was an anthropoid colony... which wasn't going anywhere.... I was like a farmer seeing fertile field for the first time"[775]

At a California medical facility between 1967 and 1968, prisoners were paralyzed with succinylcholine, a neuromuscular compound. Because their breathing capacity was shut down, many likened the experience to drowning. When five of the sixty-four prisoners refused to participate in the experiment, the institution's special treatment board gave 'permission' for prisoners to be injected against their will. Experi-ments on prisoners openly continued until 1976.

First, Do No Harm

The landmark article on human experimentation was written by Harry Beecher. It was rejected by JAMA, but picked up by the New England Journal of Medicine. It created a furor both inside and outside the medical profession.[776] He described a sampling of experiments he gleaned from the medical literature at the time detailing prestigious scientists egregiously violating Nuremburg principles.

Dr. Alf Alving of the University of Chicago under [a government grant]... purposely infected [Illinois State Hospital psychotic, back-ward patients] with malaria through blood transfusions and then gave them experimental antimalarial therapies.

Dr. Saul Krugman purposefully infected retarded children with hepatitis. He became the chairman of pediatrics at New York University and won the Lasker prize (the American equivalent of the Nobel).[777]

Dr. Chester Southam injected cancer cells into elderly and senile patients. The subjects were merely told they would be receiving "some cells," the word cancer was entirely omitted.[778] Dr. Chester Southam was elected president of the American Association for Cancer Research.[779]

This Won't Hurt a Bit

The list goes on. In 1963, the United States Public Health Service, the American Cancer Society, and the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital of Brooklyn, participated in an experiment in which physicians injected live cancer cells into twenty-two chronically ill and debilitated African American patients. The patients did not consent, nor were they aware that they were being injected with cancer.

During the 1970s, the government collected blood samples from seven thousand Black youths. Parents were told that their children were being tested for anemia, but instead, the government was looking for signs that the children were genetically predisposed to criminal activity.

At least eighty-two "charity" patients were exposed to full-body radiation at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center. The patients were exposed to radiation ten times the level believed to be safe at the time; twenty-five patients died. Three-quarters of the patients in the study were Black men and women. The consent signatures were forged.[780]

Loretta Bender, president of the Society of Biological Psychiatry: "In the children's unit of Creedmore State Hospital with a resident population of 450 patients, ages 4 to 15, we have investigated the responses of some of these children to lysergic acid [LSD] and related drugs in the psychiatric, psychological, and biochemical areas."[781]


In 1977, a Senate subcommittee chaired by Senator Ted Kennedy was convened to investigate the CIA's testing of LSD on unwitting citizens. Frank Olsen was one such citizen. After drinking punch the CIA spiked with LSD, Olsen became terribly frightened of cars, thinking they were monsters out to get him. Before the CIA could make arrangements to treat him, Olsen checked into a hotel and threw himself out of his tenth story room.

Then there was the CIA's "Operation Midnight Climax." Taxpayer dollars at work hiring prostitutes to lure men from bars back to safehouses after their drinks had been spiked with LSD. Captain George Hunter White, who headed many of these experiments, wrote to the head of the CIA's Technical Services Staff upon leaving government service in 1966:

I was a very minor missionary, actually a heretic, but I toiled wholeheartedly in the vineyards because it was fun, fun, fun.... Where else could a red-blooded American boy lie, kill, cheat, steal, rape and pillage with the sanction and blessings of the all-highest?[782]

A Glowing Report

On November 19,1996, the Secretary of Energy announced that a $4.8 million settlement will be paid to the families of 12 people injected with radioactive materials during the Cold War period.[783] The official "Report of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments" was published in JAMA. The committee found, "serious deficiencies in the current system of protections for human subjects...."

Unlucky charms. Beginning in 1949, the Quaker Oats company, the National Institutes of Health, and the Atomic Energy Commission fed minute doses of radioactive materials to boys at the Fernald School for the mentally retarded in Waltham, Massachusetts via breakfast cereal. The unwitting subjects were told that they were joining a science club. The consent form sent to the boys' parents made no mention of the radiation experiment.[784] Tricks are for kids.

The Advisory Committee reserved its harshest criticism for those cases in which physicians used patients without their consent as subjects in research from which the patients could not possibly benefit medically. These cases included a series of experiments in which 18 patients, some but not all of whom were terminally ill, were injected with plutonium at... the University of Chicago and the University of California, San Francisco, as well as 2 experiments in which seriously ill patients were injected with uranium, 6 at the University of Rochester and 11 at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston.[785]

Ebb Cabe, for example, a 53-year-old "colored male" who was hospitalized following an auto accident but was other wise in good health, was injected with plutonium.[786] A lawyer for the plaintiffs in ensuing suits said that the scientists, "had a code word for plutonium in the medical records, so people couldn't figure out that these people were injected."[787]

Very Poor Effect

We are lucky to know this much. A recently leaked Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) document: "It is desired that no document be released which refers to experiments on humans and might have an adverse effect on public opinion or resulting legal suits." Government for the people, by the people.

When the AEC considered declassifying some of these research reports, its declassification officer concluded that such a step was unthinkable: 'The document appears to be most dangerous since it describes experiments performed on human subjects, including the actual injection of plutonium into the body.... The coldly scientific manner in which the results are tabulated and discussed would have a very poor effect on the public.'

A Sort of Memorial

When confronted, what do the researchers who participated in these experiments have to say for themselves?

Patricia Durbin, a scientist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California who participated in plutonium experiments, recently said: 'These things were not done to plague people or make them sick and miserable. They were not done to kill people. They were done to gain potentially valuable information. The fact that they were injected and provided this valuable data should almost be sort of a memorial rather than something to be ashamed of. It doesn't bother me to talk about the plutonium injections because of the value of the information they provided.'

Other doctors speak to other memorials. Dr. Joseph Hamilton, a neurologist at the University of California hospital in San Francisco, referred to his own human radiation experiments in the 1940s as having, "a little of the Buchenwald touch."[788]

Special Free Treatment

No discussion would be complete without mention of Tuskegee. On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton apologized in a White House ceremony for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, the 40-year government study in which 399 Black men from Macon County, Alabama were deliberately denied effective treatment for syphilis. In fact, the United States Public Health Service went to extreme lengths to ensure that they would not receive any treatment, in their words, "in order to document the natural history of the disease."[789],[790] The Public Health Service leaders' excuse was that with the advent of antibiotics, no one would ever again be able to trace the long term effects of the disease.[791] The press reported that as of 1969, at least 28 and perhaps as many as 100 men had died as a direct result of complications caused by syphilis.[792] The women these men passed the disease to are rarely mentioned.

The physicians conducting the study deceived the men, telling them they were being treated for "bad blood." The men were informed that the lumbar punctures were therapeutic, not diagnostic. The regular spinal taps were described as, "special free treatment."

From Perspectives in Medical Sociology:

The Los Angeles Times... editors qualified their accusation that Public Health Service officials had persuaded hundreds of black men to become 'human guinea pigs' by adding: 'Well, perhaps not quite that, because the doctors obviously did not regard their subjects as completely human.'[793]

As late as 1969, a committee from the Centers for Disease Control examined the study and decided to continue it. As one of the longest medical studies in history, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study continued until 1976 despite having been openly discussed in conferences at professional meetings.[794] As described in Perspectives in Medical Sociology, "It continued despite more than a dozen articles appearing in some of the nation's best medical journals, which described the study to a combined readership of well over a hundred thousand physicians."[795]



[769] "They Were Cheap and Available: Prisoners as Research Subjects in Twentieth Century America." British Medical Journal 315:1437.

[770] Ibid.

[771] Ibid.

[772] Mellanby, K. Human Guinea Pigs London: Merlin Press, 1973.

[773] "They Were Cheap and Available: Prisoners as Research Subjects in Twentieth Century America." British Medical Journal 315:1437.

[774] Lifton, RJ. The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide New York: Basic Books, 1986.

[775] Kaye, J. "Retin-A's Wrinkled Past." Pennsylvania History Review 1997(Spring).

[776] Rothman, DJ. Strangers at the Bedside A History of How Law & Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision-Making New York: Basic Books, 1992:15.

[777] Ibid.

[778] Beecher, HK. "Ethics and Clinical Research." New England Journal of Medicine 274(1966):1354-1360.

[779] Rothman, DJ. Strangers at the Bedside A History of How Law & Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision-Making New York: Basic Books, 1992:77.

[780] Ibid.

[781] "Autonomic Nervous System Responses in Hospitalized Children Treated with LSD and UML." Proceedings of the 19th Annual Convention and Scientific Program of the Society of Biological Psychiatry Los Angeles, 13 May 1964.

[782] Martin, HV and D Caul. "Mind Control." Napa Sentinel, 1991.

[783] Guinea Pig Zero 3:7.

[784] Rothman, DJ. "Radiation." Journal of the American Medical Association 276(1996):421-423.

[785] Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. "Research Ethics and the Medical Profession." Journal of the American Medical Association 276(1996):403-409.

[786] Rothman, DJ. "Radiation." Journal of the American Medical Association 276(1996):421-423.

[787] Guinea Pig Zero 3:7.

[788] Ensign, T and G Alcalay. "Duck and Cover[up]." Covert Action Quarterly 52(1995).

[789] Gamble, VN. "Americans and Medical Research." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 9(1):35-38.

[790] Gamble VN. "Under the Shadow of Tuskegee: African Americans and Health Care." American Journal of Public Health 7(1997):1773-1778.

[791] Rothman, DJ. Strangers at the Bedside A History of How Law & Bioethics Transformed Medical Decision-Making New York: Basic Books, 1992:183.

[792] Brown, P. Perspectives in Medical Sociology Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996:538.

[793] Ibid.

[794] Youngson, RM. Medical Blunders: Amazing True Stories of Mad, Bad & Dangerous Doctors New York: New York University Press 1999:344.

[795] Brown, P. Perspectives in Medical Sociology Prospect Heights: Waveland Press, 1996:542.



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