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Forced Medical Treatment and Military Experiments with Toxic Chemicals:
A Century-Long Criminal History

By PAUL ANTHONY TAYLOR

The BBC recently published a report describing how dozens of people who were child patients at a British psychiatric hospital in the 1960s and 70s say they were experimented on with a “truth serum”. As the report describes, the experience has left the victims with disturbing memories and unanswered questions. For anyone assuming that criminal experiments conducted by or on behalf of pharmaceutical, chemical, or other interests ceased after those carried out by Nazi doctors and the German IG Farben Cartel during WWII, the evidence clearly shows this is not the case. In fact, during the past century, such experiments have been far more commonplace than most people realize.

Conducted at Aston Hall, Derbyshire, in England, the experiments described in the BBC report include children being stripped and locked in “treatment rooms” with their hands tied in bandages. Injections of sodium amytal, a so-called “truth serum”, were given, supposedly for the purposes of uncovering “hidden trauma”.

With the patients having to spend the rest of their lives suffering the effects of these experiences, the parallels with criminal medical experiments conducted during WWII by Nazi doctors and the German IG Farben Cartel are obvious. As well-known as these brutal wartime tests now are, however, they were not the only ones being conducted at that time.

U.S. and British military experiments

Photo: MoD/Crown Copyright/MOD [OGL], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1943, the United States Navy used its own men in experiments with poison gas. Conducted at the Naval Research Laboratory in Anacostia in Washington and the Edgewood arsenal in Maryland, the experiments involved injecting toxic mustard gas into locked chambers from which the men, who had been recruited under false pretenses, were unable to escape. Participants who refused to take part were threatened with court martial and 40 years in prison. Not surprisingly, almost all the victims suffered severe external and internal burns. Despite the inevitable damage to their health, the men were subsequently ignored by the Navy and even told that the Espionage Act would be used against them if they disclosed what had taken place.

The record of the British military in such matters is no better. In experiments conducted in the 1950s and 60s at Porton Down, its top secret research establishment in Wiltshire, soldiers recruited as volunteers to test "cold remedies" were instead given forms of the sarin nerve agent developed by the Nazis in WWII. Predictably, many went on to suffer a lifetime of poor health. In all, between 1939 and 1989, several thousand servicemen are believed to have taken part in experiments at the facility. At least one of them is definitively known to have been unlawfully killed in the tests.

It is bad enough that Porton Down scientists have used soldiers as their “guinea pigs”. Arguably worse still however is the fact that the British general public have surreptitiously been used by them as test subjects. In the early 1960s, a Land Rover driven by Porton Down scientists deliberately sprayed Zinc Cadmium Sulphide into the air around South West England in a supposed attempt to simulate germ warfare and analyze how it dispersed. Tellingly, unlike the unsuspecting civilian victims they encountered during their journey, the scientists in the vehicle wore full protective clothing with gas masks and were given annual medical checks.

Criminal medical experiments

In the United States, perhaps one of the most notorious criminal medical experiments was the so-called Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Between 1932 and 1972, U.S. Public Health Service doctors enticed around 400 poor black men suffering from syphilis into a study whose secret aim, unknown to the participants, was to observe the natural progression of the disease when untreated. Throughout the entire 40-year period of the study the men were deliberately not told they had syphilis and were never treated for it.

Image: Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Public Health Service. Health Services and Mental Health Administration. Center for Disease Control. Venereal Disease Branch (1970 - 1973). [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In what must surely rank as one of the most criminally hypocritical medical acts imaginable, even after the late 1940s when Nazi doctors and managers of the German IG Farben Cartel had been imprisoned – and some put to death – by the Allies for carrying out forced medical experiments and other crimes against humanity, the Tuskegee study was continued for a further quarter of a century. By May 1997 when President Bill Clinton finally apologized for what had taken place, only seven surviving patients were left alive to witness it.

For the sheer inhumanity and cruelty of its actions, a case that rivals even the Tuskegee one occurred between 1946 and 1948 when American public health doctors deliberately infected around 700 Guatemalans with venereal diseases for the supposed purpose of testing the effectiveness of penicillin. An especially dark chapter in the history of medicine, the victims of these shocking experiments included prison inmates, mental patients, and soldiers. Once again, therefore, at precisely the same time as the United States government was engaged in prosecuting Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity, it was simultaneously supporting human experimentation that was no less criminal in its actions.

While it would be preferable if we could conclude that the almost century-long criminal history of forced medical treatment and deadly experiments with toxic chemicals is a thing of the past, unfortunately we are still some way from being able to say this. With state-sponsored child abuse continuing to force chemotherapy on innocent children suffering from cancer; pharma industry experiments resulting in brain damage and death; and poor people in developing countries being ‘duped’ into taking part in drug trials without realizing it; there remains much to be concerned about. But so long as there are enough of us who are committed to sharing the truth as widely as possible, a better world will surely eventually emerge.

28 July, 2016

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