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Compelled to Volunteer: American Conscientious Objectors to World War II as Subjects of Medical Research

Bateman-House, Alison

This dissertation is a history of the use of World War II-era American conscientious objectors as the subjects of medical research. Under the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, conscientious objectors had two choices: provide noncombatant service within the military or provide work of national importance under civilian direction under the auspices of a program called Civilian Public Service (CPS). Conscientious objectors who chose assignment to CPS were placed in camps in which the men labored on a work project authorized by the U.S. Selective Service System, the government entity that administered the draft. At the outset of the CPS program, the camps were modeled after the work camps of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal jobs program. Over time, and largely due to protests that such Civilian Conservation Corps-type forestry and soil conservation work assignments were not the promised work of national importance, other types of CPS camps were developed, with work projects dealing with public health, custodial care for the mentally disabled, or scientific research. In the later, which became commonly known as the guinea pig units, over five hundred conscientious objectors voluntarily participated as research subjects for a diverse assortment of scientific studies, including projects that dealt with infectious diseases, diet, frostbite, psycho-acoustics, and the impacts of temperature extremes and of altitude.
In addition to describing the creation and operation of the guinea pig units, this dissertation examines the use of American World War II conscientious objectors as research subjects in light of two specific questions: first, why did these men volunteer to be guinea pigs? And second, was the use of World War II-era conscientious objectors as research subjects in keeping with the ethical standards of the time? This dissertation draws upon a diverse array of sources to answer the question of motivation from the volunteers' perspectives. Likewise, this dissertation relies upon a wide array of sources to piece together what researchers of the day, both military and civilian, would have considered acceptable and unacceptable uses of people in the name of research.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Sociomedical Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Bayer, Ronald
Degree
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 7, 2014