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Barbarians not at the gates, but inside the gates

by | Mar 1, 2011

Editor’s the following is excerpted from “Belief in Human Exceptionalism Only Real Protection of Human Subjects in Research” which appears on Wesley Smith’s terrific blog

The entry was inspired by the horrific report that appeared over the weekend from the Associated Press. It begins, “Shocking as it may seem, U.S. government doctors once thought it was fine to experiment on disabled people and prison inmates. Such experiments included giving hepatitis to mental patients in Connecticut, squirting a pandemic flu virus up the noses of prisoners in Maryland, and injecting cancer cells into chronically ill people at a New York hospital.” I also comment the report at


Not coincidentally, the late 60s and into the early seventies was also the era in which some American doctors and scientists engaged in live fetal experiments. One of these was recounted by Pamela R. Winnick in her splendid book A Jealous God (p 24.):

In a 1968 study called the “Artificial Placenta,” a twenty-six week old fetus, weighing more than a pound, was obtained from a fourteen-year-old girl, presumably from a therapeutic abortion. Along with fourteen other fetuses, it was immersed in a liquid containing oxygen and kept alive for a full five hours.

She then quotes directly from the study itself

For the whole 5 hours of life, the fetus did not respire. Irregular gasping movements, twice a minute occurred in the middle of the experiment but there was not proper respiration. Once the profusion [pumping in of oxygenated blood] was stopped, however, the gasping respiratory efforts increased to 8 to 10 per minute…After stopping the circuit, the heart slowed, became irregular and eventually stopped…The fetus was quiet, making occasional stretching limb movements very much like the ones reported in other human work…[T]he fetus died 21 minutes after leaving the circuit.

Winnick then reports that rather than being appalled, the scientists lauded this living fetal experimentation:

The study won the Foundation Prize Award from the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

These experiments were stopped because an outraged Congress–led by Senator Ted Kennedy–outlawed such a crassly instrumental use of fetal human beings. (If you want to read my review of A Jealous God, hit this link.)

Don’t say it will never happen again.  We have seen advocacy in some of the world’s most respected professional journals to use unconscious patients in terrible ways, such as removing the patients’ kidneys and transplanting pig organs to look into the safety of xenotransplantation, as I detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle a few years ago.

I will keep saying it: When we abandon human exceptionalism, we create the environment in which these awful experiments can happen.

“Folks appear to be hearing these arguments for the first time”

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