Experimentation on humans is considered unethical. It violates the principles of medical ethics, so we mostly refer to it with the term unethical human experimentation. These practices can include denying patients their right to consent, the usage of pseudoscience, and torture disguised as research.
A large number of human experiments were conducted during World War II by Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. They experimented on prisoners and civilians alike using a large variety of unethical methods. Other countries have been known to experiment with members of the more marginalized groups in society. Some of those include the mistreatment of indigenous people in Australia and Canada and the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments.
The Nuremberg Code was created at the end of World War II after the Nuremberg trials. It was a set of different research ethics that dealt with the issues of human experimentation. However, the first real document that properly dealt with these issues was the Declaration of Helsinki adopted in June of 1964.
The Declaration of Helsinki is not a legally binding document. However, it is a set of principles developed by the World Medical Association that is considered to be one of the most critical cornerstones on human research ethics. Throughout history, humans in different countries conducted various forms of human experimentation, and we will name a few more famous examples in this article.
7. The Tuskegee Study
This famous lapse in medical ethics that happened in the United States lasted for 40 years. The United States Public Health Service developed a special study in 1932, that dealt with the health effects of untreated syphilis. The way the study was conducted was simple - researchers would not treat syphilis in the participants of the experiment.
The researchers tracked the behavior of untreated syphilis in 399 black men in Alabama. They lied that they were being treated for “bad blood.” The study was exposed in 1972 and shut down.
6. The Guatemala Syphilis Study
During the Tuskegee study, the participants were not infected by syphilis; they were already sick. However, an experiment conducted and funded by the U.S. and Guatemalan governments between 1946 and 1948 did just that. Guatemalan prisoners and mental asylum patients were deliberately injected with syphilis to try to prevent the spreading of the disease through chemicals.
5. Unit 731
Unit 731 was a special Japanese unit during World War II that was responsible for various testings of biological warfare on civilians, mostly those in China. It is believed that 200,000 people died as a result of these experiments. Some of the atrocities committed include wells infected with cholera and fleas infected with a plague that was spread across Chinese cities.
The Japanese researchers would march prisoners through the cold and then conducted experiments to determine the best cure for frostbite. Some prisoners were even dissected while they were still conscious.
4. Nazi Human Experimentation
During the duration of World War II, but also in the period that led up to it, Nazi Germany was responsible for a large number of medical experiments that were conducted on Jews, people of color, Romani, and other ethnic groups they were persecuting.
The places where they conducted these experiments were called concentration camps, and the results of these experiments were mostly death or permanent disability. There were even experiments that tried genetically manipulate twins, among other gruesome things.
3. The Mustard Gas Tests
The U.S. navy exposed its own soldiers to mustard gas in 1943. They were officially saying that they plan to test if their new clothes and gas masks were effective against mustard gas. However, it was only a way to test how effective mustard gas really was.
Young soldiers were approached and asked if they wanted to be a part of an experiment, which will help bring World War II to a quicker end. They had no idea what the experiment would look like until they arrived at the site. Most of the participants suffered severe burns, but the experiment was kept under wraps until 1991.
2. The Stanford Prison Experiment
The only human experiment on this list that was conducted after the Declaration of Helsinki, the Stanford Prison Experiment was conducted from August 14th to 20th, 1971. It aimed to determine the causes of conflicts between prisoners and guards. Male students were chosen for the experiment and randomly assigned roles of prisoners and guards. They were then placed in a mock prison and forced to act in a certain way.
The “guards” were forced to subject the “prisoners” to psychological torture and various authoritarian measures. Many of the prisoners accepted the drastic punishments, although they weren’t actual prisoners. They started feeling depressed and stressed out. The study was canceled after only six days, but it played an important role in the psychology of human behavior.
1. Project MK-Ultra
Project MK-Ultra was the code name given to a unique research program developed by the CIA that experimented in human behavior. This program used various methods to try and manipulate the mental state of its subjects. They were often drugged with LSD or other mind-altering hallucinogenic drugs, subjected to isolation, verbal and sexual abuse, and torture.
This research was conducted in various places, hospitals, universities, and prisons. The supposed aim of this project was to find chemical materials that could be used in covert operations.
What was the MK-Ultra project?
Project MK-Ultra was the code name given to a unique research program developed by the CIA that experimented in human behavior. This program used various methods to try and manipulate the mental state of its subjects.
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