Subjects or objects? prisoners and human experimentation
Barron H. Lerner
- Subjects or objects? prisoners and human experimentation
- Lerner, Barron H.
- Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health
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- New England journal of medicine
- During the 1950s, inmates at what was then called Holmesburg Prison, in Philadelphia, were inoculated with condyloma acuminatum, cutaneous moniliasis, and viruses causing warts, herpes simplex, and herpes zoster. For participating in this research, and in studies exposing them to dioxin and agents of chemical warfare, they were paid up to $1,500 a month. Between 1963 and 1971, researchers in Oregon and Washington irradiated and repeatedly took biopsy specimens from the testicles of healthy prisoners; the men subsequently reported rashes, peeling, and blisters on the scrotum as well as sexual difficulties. Hundreds of such experiments induced the federal government to essentially ban research involving prisoners in 1978. The message: such research is fundamentally exploitative and thus unethical. Yet a recent report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has opened the closed door, arguing not only that such research can be performed appropriately but that prisoners deserve to be included in investigative studies — at least those who might benefit directly. Examination of the explanations behind U.S. restrictions on prison research and their current applicability can provide guidance for today's policy debates.
- Medical ethics
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