Unbelievable Experimєnts Conducted on Humans (I)

Science is hard, and good science requires a lot of work to control variables and manage large amounts of data. Medical science, in particular, usually calls for elaborate precautions to be taken, not just to ensure the accuracy of the data, but to protect the test subjects.

People have rights, after all, and it’s highly unethical to subject them to drug trials against their will or to poison them without consent to test a theory. Those constraints make medical research one of the hardest fields to work in, since most experiments have to be done on animals, and the findings are not necessarily applicable to humans.

Forty years ago the U.S. Congress changed the rules; informed consent is now required for any government-funded medical study involving human subjects. But before 1974 the ethics involved in using humans in research experiments was a little, let’s say, loose.

And the exploitation and abuse of human subjects was often alarming. We begin our list with one of the most famous instances of exploitation, a study that eventually helped change the public view about the lack of consent in the name of scientific advancements.

1. Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Unidentified subject, onlookers and Dr. Walter Edmondson taking a blood test (NARA, Atlanta, GA)

In 1997, a formal public apology was issued to victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Here, Herman Shaw embraces President Bill Clinton during the apology ceremony.

Syphilis was a major public health problem in the 1920s, and in 1928 the Julius Rosenwald Fund, a charity organization, launched a public healthcare project for blacks in the American rural south. Sounds good, right? It was, until the Great Depression rocked the U.S. in 1929 and the project lost its funding.

Changes were made to the program; instead of treating health problems in underserved areas, in 1932 poor black men living in Macon County, Alabama, were instead enrolled in a program to treat what they were told was their “bad blood” (a term that, at the time, was used in reference to everything from anemia to fatigue to syphilis).

They were given free medical care, as well as food and other amenities such as burial insurance, for participating in the study. But they didn’t know it was all a sham. The men in the study weren’t told that they were recruited for the program because they were actually suffering from the sexually transmitted disease syphilis, nor were they told they were taking part in a government experiment studying untreated syphilis, the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” That’s right: untreated.

Despite thinking they were receiving medical care, subjects were never actually properly treated for the disease. This went on even after penicillin hit the scene and became the go-to treatment for the infection in 1945, and after Rapid Treatment Centers were established in 1947.

Despite concerns raised about the ethics of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study as early as 1936, the study didn’t actually end until 1972 after the media reported on the multi-decade experiment and there was subsequent public outrage.

2. The Nazi Medical Experiments

A Polish witness and a doctor show the wounds the woman received from Nazi experiments during the trial of 23 Nazi doctors in Nuremberg, Germany in 1946.

During WWII, the Nazis performed medical experiments on adults and children imprisoned in the Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. The accounts of abuse, mutilation, starvation, and torture reads like a grisly compilation of all nine circles of hell.

Prisoners in these death camps were subjected to heinous crimes under the guise of military advancement, medical and pharmaceutical advancement, and racial and population advancement.

Jews were subjected to experiments intended to benefit the military, including hypothermia studies where prisoners were immersed in ice water in an effort to ascertain how long a downed pilot could survive in similar conditions. Some victims were only allowed sea water, a study of how long pilots could survive at sea; these subjects, not surprisingly, died of dehydration.

Victims were also exposed to high altitude in decompression chambers — often followed with brain dissection on the living — to study high-altitude sickness and how pilots would be affected by atmospheric pressure changes.

Effectively treating war injuries was also a concern for the Nazis, and pharmaceutical testing went on in these camps. Sulfanilamide was tested as a new treatment for war wounds. Victims were inflicted with wounds that were then intentionally infected. Infections and poisonings were also studied on human subjects.

Tuberculosis (TB) was injected into prisoners in an effort to better understand how to immunize against the infection. Experiments with poison, to determine how fast subjects would die, were also on the agenda.

The Nazis also performed genetic and racially-motivated sterilizations, artificial inseminations, and also conducted experiments on twins and people of short stature.

3. Watson’s ‘Little Albert’ Experiment

Conditioning a baby to be fearful and upset is definitely a jerk move.

In 1920 John Watson, along with graduate student Rosalie Rayner, conducted an emotional-conditioning experiment on a nine-month-old baby — whom they nicknamed “Albert B” — at Johns Hopkins University in an effort to prove their theory that we’re all born as blank slates that can be shaped. The child’s mother, a wet nurse who worked at the hospital, was paid one dollar for allowing her son to take part.

The “Little Albert” experiment went like this: Researchers first introduced the baby to a small, furry white rat, of which he initially had no fear. (According to reports, he didn’t really show much interest at all).

Then they re-introduced him to the rat while a loud sound rang out. Over and over, “Albert” was exposed to the rat and startling noises until he became frightened any time he saw any small, furry animal (rats, for sure, but also dogs and monkeys) regardless of noise.

Who exactly “Albert” was remained unknown until 2010, when his identity was revealed to be Douglas Merritte. Merritte, it turns out, wasn’t a healthy subject: He showed signs of behavioral and neurological impairment, never learned to talk or walk, and only lived to age six, dying from hydrocephalus (water on the brain).

He also suffered from a bacterial meningitis infection he may have acquired accidentally during treatments for his hydrocephalus, or, as some theorize, may have been — horrifyingly — intentionally infected as part of another experiment.

In the end, Merritte was never deconditioned, and because he died at such a young age no one knows if he continued to fear small furry things post-experiment.

4. The Monster Study of 1939

Today we understand that stuttering has many possible causes. It may run in some families, an inherited genetic quirk of the language center of the brain. It may also occur because of a brain injury, including stroke or other trauma. Some young children stutter when they’re learning to talk, but outgrow the problem. In some rare instances, it may be a side effect of emotional trauma. But you know what it’s not caused by? Criticism.

In 1939 Mary Tudor, a graduate student at the University of Iowa, and her faculty advisor, speech expert Wendell Johnson, set out to prove stuttering could be taught through negative reinforcement — that it’s learned behavior. Over four months, 22 orphaned children were told they would be receiving speech therapy, but in reality they became subjects in a stuttering experiment; only about half were actually stutterers, and none received speech therapy.

During the experiment the children were split into four groups:

Half of the stutterers were given negative feedback. The other half of stutterers were given positive feedback. Half of the non-stuttering group were all told they were beginning to stutterer and were criticized.
The other half of non-stutterers were praised. The only significant impact the experiment had was on that third group; these kids, despite never actually developing a stutter, began to change their behavior, exhibiting low self-esteem and adopting the self-conscious behaviors associated with stutterers. And those who did stutter didn’t cease doing so regardless of the feedback they received.

5.Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study

It’s estimated that between 60 to 65 percent of American soldiers stationed in the South Pacific during WWII suffered from a malarial infection at some point during their service. For some units the infection proved to be more deadly than the enemy forces were, so finding an effective treatment was a high priority [source: Army Heritage Center Foundation]. Safe anti-malarial drugs were seen as essential to winning the war.

Beginning in 1944 and spanning over the course of two years, more than 400 prisoners at the Stateville Penitentiary in Illinois were subjects in an experiment aimedat finding an effective drug against malaria.

Prisoners taking part in the experiment were infected with malaria, and then treated with experimental anti-malarial treatments. The experiment didn’t have a hidden agenda, and its unethical methodology didn’t seem to bother the American public, who were united in winning WWII and eager to bring the troops home — safe and healthy.

The intent of the experiments wasn’t hidden from the subjects, who were at the time praised for their patriotism and in many instances given shorter prison sentences in return for their participation.

Source: science.howstuffworks.com

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