I was doing a lot of research into human experimentation for the second Prosper Snow novel, and until I started, I didn’t realise how much of this has actually gone on through the ages. Most people are familiar with the Nazis and the Holocaust, but some of the other disturbing cases I came across are as follows:
The Stanford Prison Experiment. This was a psychological study about human responses to captivity and its behavioural effects on both authorities and inmates in a prison environment. The experiment was led by psychologist Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University. Undergraduate volunteers played the roles of both guards and prisoners living in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building.
The prisoners and guards rapidly adapted to their roles, stepping beyond the boundaries of what had been predicted and leading to dangerous and psychologically damaging situations. One-third of the guards were judged to have exhibited “genuine” sadistic tendencies, while many prisoners were emotionally traumatized and two had to be removed from the experiment early. Finally, Zimbardo, alarmed at the increasingly abusive anti-social behavior from his subjects, terminated the entire experiment early.
Project MKULTRA, or MK-ULTRA, was the code name for a CIA mind-control research program, run by the Office of Scientific Intelligence.
It began in the early 1950s and continued through the late 1960s. There is much published evidence that the project involved the surreptitious use of many types of drugs, as well as other methodologies, to manipulate individual mental states and to alter brain function.
Experiments included administering LSD to CIA employees, military personnel, doctors, other government agents, prostitutes, mentally ill patients, and members of the general public in order to study their reactions. LSD and other drugs were usually administered without the subject’s knowledge and informed consent.
In 1973, CIA Director Richard Helms ordered all MKULTRA files destroyed. Pursuant to this order, most CIA documents regarding the project were destroyed, making a full investigation of MKULTRA virtually impossible.
The Aversion Project. In the 1970’s and the 1980’s, South Africa’s apartheid army forced white lesbian and gay soldiers to undergo ‘sex-change’ operations, and submitted many to chemical castration, electric shock, and other unethical medical experiments. Although the exact number is not known, former apartheid army surgeons estimate that as many as 900 forced ‘sexual reassignment’ operations may have been performed between 1971 and 1989 at military hospitals, as part of a top-secret program to root out homosexuality from the service.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was an investigation of untreated syphilis in the Negro Male, conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama.
399 (plus 201 control group without syphilis) poor – and mostly illiterate – African American sharecroppers were denied treatment for Syphilis.
This study became notorious because it was conducted without due care to its subjects, and led to major changes in how patients are protected in clinical studies. Individuals enrolled in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study did not give informed consent and were not informed of their diagnosis; instead they were told they had “bad blood” and could receive free medical treatment, rides to the clinic, meals and burial insurance in case of death in return for participating. In 1932, when the study started, standard treatments for syphilis were toxic, dangerous, and of questionable effectiveness. Part of the original goal of the study was to determine if patients were better off not being treated with these toxic remedies. For many participants, treatment was intentionally denied. Many patients were lied to and given placebo treatments—in order to observe the fatal progression of the disease.
By the end of the study, only 74 of the test subjects were still alive. Twenty-eight of the men had died directly of syphilis, 100 were dead of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected, and 19 of their children had been born with congenital syphilis.
Unit 731 was a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that undertook lethal human experimentation during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945) and World War II. It was responsible for some of the most notorious war crimes carried out by Japanese personnel.
Some of the numerous atrocities committed by the commander Shiro Ishii and others under his command in Unit 731 include: vivisection of living people (including pregnant women who were impregnated by the doctors), prisoners had limbs amputated and reattached to other parts of their body, some prisoners had parts of their bodies frozen and thawed to study the resulting untreated gangrene. Humans were also used as living test cases for grenades and flame throwers. Prisoners were injected with strains of diseases, disguised as vaccinations, to study their effects. To study the effects of untreated venereal diseases, male and female prisoners were deliberately infected with syphilis and gonorrhoea via rape, then studied.
Then there was an experiment that involved intradermal injections of live human cancer cells into 22 chronically ill, debilitated non-cancer patients in 1963 without their consent in the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital case, to learn if foreign cancer cells would live longer in debilitated non-cancer patients than in patients debilitated by cancer.
Then there was the case of severely retarded children at the Willowbrook State Hospital in New York being injected with hepatitis virus. This Hospital did not admit new patients after 1964, unless their parents "consented" to the experiment.
Cancer patients (mostly Negroes of below-average intelligence who were charity patients) during 1960-72 in Cincinnati were exposed to large doses of whole body radiation as part of an experiment sponsored by the U.S. military.
A University of Minnesota study in the late 1940s injected 11 public service employee volunteers with malaria, then starved them for five days.
For a study in 1957, when the Asian flu pandemic was spreading, federal researchers sprayed the virus in the noses of 23 inmates at Patuxent prison in Jessup, Md., to compare their reactions to those of 32 virus-exposed inmates who had been given a new vaccine.
Government researchers in the 1950s tried to infect about two dozen volunteering prison inmates with gonorrhea using two different methods in an experiment at a federal penitentiary in Atlanta. The bacteria was pumped directly into the urinary tract through the penis, according to their paper.
Although I was researching for a fictional work, the truth is that much of what I wrote about has actually happened in one way or another.
The truth may be stranger than fiction, but it’s also a hell of a lot scarier too.