May 9, 2014

Human guinea pigs

For the Good of Mankind? The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation
by Vicki Oransky Wittenstein

It is generally understood that the first rule of ethics is to do no harm, yet great harm has been done to men, women, and children in the name of science. Many of us are aware of the atrocities inflicted on the Jews by Dr. Josef Mengele and the great damage done to African Americans in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Yet these were not isolated incidents. For many years, scientists, physicians, and members of the military have been using people as guinea pigs without the subjects' knowledge or informed consent. The human suffering has been immense: tuberculosis toxin injected into the eyes of healthy children, a female slave forced to undergo 30 operations without anesthesia, and pregnant women coerced into drinking liquids laced with radioactive iron (they were told that the drinks were good for them and their babies).

Wittenstein expertly examines the horrifying history of human medical experimentation and the often questionable reasons for doing so. She also delves into the current business of medical research and what informed consent really means. She ends with some critical analysis questions, ideal for classroom discussion.

Many readers will find this book a difficult read due to the controversial subject matter, but it needs to be read.

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