It should come as no surprise to you that many of the medical advancements made by humans are the result of practices and experiments that were, through the lens of history and knowledge, questionable at best.
There were periods in time when animals, people of color, women, the poor, the mentally ill, and any other marginalized community you can imagine were misled into or simply forced to participate in medical experiments that were not, in any way shape or form, consensual.
That, of course, has not (and shouldn’t) stopped society at large from benefitting from the life saving results.
It also doesn’t mean we should gloss over the fact that people were violated to make our lives better. They deserve, at the very least, to be remembered, don’t you think?
6. Skin care.
The U.S. military, along with 33 different corporations, used the prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Pennsylvania as their own personal – non-consenting – test subjects for an array of issues.
First, they tested mind-altering drugs and weapons of war, applying small amounts of poisonous substances onto or into the skin of prisoners as they searched for the minimum dose of a drug needed to render men impotent.
They tested things that should have been innocuous, like toothpaste and deodorant, but then biopsied the application sites without anesthesia.
The experiments lasted from 1951-1974 and produced a large amount of information that led to advancements in the area of skin care, especially, since they allowed us to determine what amounts of active ingredients are safe.
5. The flu vaccine.
Thomas Francis Jr was the microbiologist who isolated the viruses known as influenza A and B. He also paved the way for a better understanding of the virus and, eventually, a vaccine.
In order to gain this understanding, in 1941, he sprayed the flu virus directly into the noses of institutionalized patients – many of them children – without their knowledge or consent.
Worse? The medical establishment mostly shrugged their shoulders, since the dominant feeling of the day was that as long as the ends justified the means, no harm was being done.
4. Artificial blood.
In the 2000s, Northfield Laboratories administered artificial blood – a blood product that didn’t carry risks like disease and didn’t generate religious objections – to non-consenting test subjects. The patients were experiencing trauma that rendered them unable to consent, and during the course of the study, 13.2% of them died, compared to just 9.6% of them in the control group.
Artificial blood has never been tested on humans again. That we know of, anyway.
3. Modern gynecology.
Surgeon and scientist James Marion Sims used enslaved women in the 1840s to develop ways to view, diagnose, and treat all manner of female issues. These women were tied down and violated without their consent, all in the name of science. Without their unwilling sacrifice, gynecological knowledge might still be lacking.
2. Government controls overseeing human subjects.
In 1932, the government began an experiment that sought to identify, study, and understand the stages of syphilis, as well as to develop a treatment protocol for a disease that, at the time, had no cure.
They chose as their subjects one group of African-American men who had contracted syphilis and one that had not…and then proceeded to give the disease to the uninfected group.
None of the men gave consent, and for the most part, none realized what they were being infected with until it was too late to save themselves or, in many cases, their families.
The Tuskegee study promised treatment and food to the participants, which were valuable commodities during the Great Depression, but they never followed through with treatment – they couldn’t study the progression of the disease, after all, if they hampered it in any way.
The experiment went on for over 40 years before a reporter caught wind and blew the whistle. The world was different in 1972 – maybe not radically different, but enough to horrify and outrage the public at large, who demanded the study come to an end. The men, their families, and descendants were eventually paid (monetarily) for their sacrifice.
While the study provided very little new information (syphilis was being successfully treated with penicillin 30 years before the study ended), it did lead to a significant increase in government oversight of medical tests that use human subjects, which has since become a major feature of the American medical system.
1. Counteracting attempts at mind control.
The CIA conducted a series of experiments designed to test everything from electric shock to the effects of drugs and their ability to control the minds of military prisoners. They conducted the program, known as MK-ULTRA, between 1953 and 1973. The secretive program included the dosing of unsuspecting civilians – and their own agents – with LSD in order to observe their reactions.
At least one man, a scientist unaware he was under the influence of psychedelic drugs, died when he fell from a building.
Much of the documentation has been destroyed (shocker), but the knowledge gained about illegal drugs and their effects has been used over and over again (for good and evil).
Many people who unknowingly took the drugs during the experiments died or suffered permanent damage.
History, man. Such a mixed bag of tricks.