From the May 1999 Idaho Observer:
Federal government publishes confession;
by Don Harkins for the SPOTLIGHT
The President's Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments published its final report in October, 1995. Commissioned January 15, 1994, by President Clinton, the committee spent 1 1/2 years producing the comprehensive, 925 page document that chronologizes in detail the use of human subjects in radiation experiments from 1944-1974.
Although a top secret document from February 26, 1953, called the Wilson Memorandum stated that, [T]he voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential, the report cites thousands of cases where American adults and American children were given non-theraputic doses of radioactive substances without their knowledge or consent.
The 14 committee members themselves were appointed by the president and supported by 56 researchers and consultants who located every document that could be found in reference to human radiation experiments and distilled them into the report. The report, which was purposefully designed to be readable to the widest possible audience of interested readers, has been divided into four parts: Part I: Ethics of Human Subjects Research: A Historical Perspective; Part II: Case Studies; Part III: Contemporary Projects and; Part IV: Coming to Terms With the Past, Looking Ahead to the Future.
Part I was dedicated to the exploration of what could only be described as serious questions as to what constitutes the ethical use of unwitting human subjects in radiation experiments.
Questions regarding the ethics of such experimentation did not stop with Part I. With each specifically documented example of radiation experimentation discussed in the report, the committee labored the point of whether or not the exposure of human subjects to radioactive materials was ethical in that particular case.
To the average person the question of ethics is not so complex. To most people it is unthinkable that anybody should have the legal or moral authority to expose people to potentially lethal substances without their personal knowledge or consent.
In medical research, these risks (the risks inherent in all scientific research) often fall on the human subject who sometimes does not stand to benefit personally from the knowledge gained. This is the source of the moral tension at the core of the enterprise of research involving human subjects, wrote the committee in the preface.
Reconstructing a vanished world
The committee almost immediately recognized that it must reconstruct a vanished world, because the human radiation experiments were highly compartmentalized in a fashion that is consistent with other top secret government projects. The committee also found that thousands of documents had been destroyed over the years. The Department of Energy admitted that its predecessor the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) had destroyed documents throughout the 1970s and as recently as 1989.
We found that the Department of Human and Health Services, which is the primary government sponsor of research involving human subjects, reported that, as permitted by federal records laws, had long since discarded files on experiments performed decades ago, the committee reported.
The CIA informed the comittee that it had destroyed documents and records, also during the 1970s, pertaining to the controversial top secret program MKULTRA in which unwitting subjects were experimented upon with a variety of substances. The records were destroyed when the highly secretive federal mind control program became a widely publicized scandal.
The CIA did placate the committee by concluding that, human experiments using ionizing radiation never took place under that program [MKULTRA], based upon currently available evidence.
The committee heard the testimony of more than 200 people who they themselves or their family members had been subjected to radiation experiments. The horror stories heard by the committee members included plutonium injections, total body radiation experiments and experiments involving the use of radioactive tracers with institutionalized children.
We heard from 'atomic veterans': soldiers who had been marched to ground zero at atomic bomb tests, sailors who had walked the decks of ships contaminated with radioactive mist, and pilots who had flown through radioactive mushroom clouds. We also heard from their widows. We heard from people who lived 'downwind' from nuclear weapons tests in Nevada and intentional releases of radioactive material in Washington state. We heard from... the report continues as the atrocities were recounted one by one.
The report did not detail the testimonies of people who had to watch as their affected loved ones died slow, painful deaths from varieties of cancers and related conditions, but the committee did write that, These witnesses spoke eloquently of their pain, their frustration and the reasons they do not trust the government.
In the report's preface, the committee indicated that it believes radiation experiments have been conducted in the interest of national security and in the interest of biomedical research. The upside to those interests would be the creation of impenatrable national defenses, antidotes for radiation exposures and medical procedures that increase the quality of life for Americans. The downside is the proliferation of deadly weapons of increasing efficiency and epidemics of cancers and other radiation-induced illnesses.
While one would hope that the former would be the result of radiation experiments upon human subjects, by 1999 we are confronted with the reality that nuclear weapons are much deadlier than they were in 1944 and that incidence of cancer and other illnesses associated with auto-immune system suppression are epidemic in this country.
The case studies
Under the auspices of the Manhattan Project, the federal government commissioned radiation experiments at universities and other institutions all over the country between 1945 and 1947. Apparently non-consenting hospital patients were given plutonium injections at the University of Rochester, the University of Chicago and the Oak Ridge Hospital in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Milton Stadt, the son of a subject in the Rochester University experiments, provided the following testimony for the committee at a hearing held Jsanuary 30, 1995, in Santa Fe, New Mexico:
My mother, Jan Stadt, had a number, HP-8. She was injected with plutonium March 9, 1946. She was 41 years old, and I was 11 years old at the time. My mother and father were never told or asked for any kind of consent to have this done to them.
My mother went in (to the hospital) for scleroderma...and a duodenal ulcer, and somehow she got pushed over into this lab where these monsters were.
Tests were also being conducted at the University of California at Berkley that explored the medical applications of radioactive substances for use in cancer therapy.
According to the conclusion provided in the report regarding the experiments described beiefly above, From 1945 through 1947 Manhattan Project researchers injected 18 human subjects with plutonium, five human subjects with polonium, and six human subjects with uranium to obtain metabolic data related to the safety of those working on the production of nuclear weapons.
According to the report, With one exception, the historical record suggests that these patients-subjects were not told that they were to be used in experiments for which there was no expectation that they would benefit medically and, as a consequence, it is unlikely they consented to this use of their person.
The Fernald/Quaker Oats/MIT/NIH/AEC experiments
The committee was seriously concerned with the ethical dilemmas which abound when scientific experiments are performed upon children without their knowledge or consent or without the consent of their parents. Federal regulations do allow nontheraputic research on children if an IRB (an institutional review board comprised of local citizens) determines that the research presents 'no greater than minimal risk' to the children who would serve as subjects, although there is no clear definition of what constitutes minimal risk is provided, stated the committee.
The report describes a national program which used child subjects for cancer, nutrition and radiation studies at locations all over the country and indicates that evidence of parental knowledge or consent was absent in nearly all cases.
The sinister and discompassionate nature of the radiation experiments is perhaps most clearly exemplified in the tests performed at the Walter E. Fernald school, a state of Massachusettes institution for mentally retarded children, between 1950 and 1953. The experiments were funded as a joint effort by the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT), National Institutes of Health, the Atomic Energy Commission and the Quaker Oats Company.
The study was ostensibly designed to determine how the body absorbed iron, calcium, and other minerals from dietary sources and to explore the effect of various compounds in cereal on mineral absorption.
Similar tests using small amounts of radioactive iodine were conducted at Wrentham school--another Massachusettes instutition for retarded children. The report stated that, [W]ith funding from the Division of Radiologic Health of the U.S. Public Health Service, the scientists conducting this experimement used Wrentham students to test a proposed countermeasure to nuclear fallout.
Much of the research had already been done for the committee as knowledge that innocent Massachusettes children had been used in radiation experimnents compelled the formation of the Massachusettes Task Force on Human Subjects Research.
Researchers from MIT, working in cooperation with senior members of the Fernald staff carried out nontheraputic nutritional studies with radioscopes at the state school in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
In 1946, one study subjected boys from the school's 'science club' to radioactive iron. The second study...exposed 57 subjects to radioactive calcium between 1950 and 1953.
Following is a parental consent form letter that was uncovered by the Massachusettes Task Force. ...[A]lthough parents or guardians were asked for their permission to have their children involved in the research, the available evidence suggests that the information provided was, at best, incomplete.
The committee also questioned the ethics of using retarded and institionalized children as test subjects.
In the previous years we have done some examination in connection with the nutritional department of the Massachusettes Instutute of Technology, with the purposes of helping to improve the nutrition of our children and to help them in general more efficiently than before.
For the checking up of the children, we occasionally need to take some blood samples which are then analyzed. The blood samples are taken after one test meal which consists of a special breakfast meal containing a certain amount of calcium. We have asked for volunteers to give a sample of blood once a month for three months, and your son has agreed to volunteer because the boys who belong to the Science Club have many additional priviledges. They get one quart of milk daily during that time, and are taken to a baseball game, to the beach and to some outside dinners and they enjoy it greatly.
I hope that you have no objection that your son is voluntarily participating in this study. The first study will start Monday, June 8th, and if you have not expressed any objections we will assume that your son may participate.
Clemens E. Benda, M.D.
The letter indicated that the experiments were being conducted for the children's benefit which, the committee concluded, ...was simply not true.
According to the committee in the preface of the report, the purpose of this study was to understand what has been done in the past as a tool to avoid making the same mistakes in the future. The conclusions are that the federal government has established a pattern of using human test subjects without their knowledge or consent for radiation research. Other government publications, as well as privately published works, have also documented federal government use of unwitting human subjects in cancer and immunological research.
We know that the government has been using human test subjects for chemical and biological weapons research because Congress passed a bill which became Title 50, Chapter 32, Section 1520 of the U.S. Code which authorizes the Department of Defense, and its contractors to use human test subjects in the testing of chemical and biological weapons without their consent. When the provisions of the above law were widely publicized to an enraged public in 1996, it was amended in 1997 to prohibit the use of tax dollars for such experimentation.
The committee believes that if scientific experimentation is to continue to use human test subjects, then the humans being tested must give be thoroughly informed as to the the experiments that are to be performed upon them and that they give their full consent in advance of the experiments. All people would agree that informed consent should be a standard protocol in the use of humans for research purposes.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that the federal government is going to stop experimenting upon the unsuspecting American public. In fact, the evidence is to the contrary.
Rather than take to heart the conclusions made by the committee in its report to the president, the federal government has made laws which make it legal for the Department of Defense and its contractors to continue experimenting upon Americans without their knowledge or consent in interest of chemical and biogical weapons testing and research.
In the end, if trust in government is to be restored, those in power must act in good faith in their dealings with the citizenry, wrote the committee.
The committee continued by warning Americans that we, ...must recognize that unless we have expectations of honesty and fairness from our government and unless we are vigilent in holding the government to those expectations, trust will never be restored.
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