U.S. Tests on Humans Date to '30S in Wwii, Informed Consent Was Required - but Not Always Gotten

Article excerpt

EXPERIMENTATION ON humans has been a touchy topic in some parts of the federal government for more than 60 years - much earlier than previously thought, according to newly discovered documents.

The documents, released recently by the White House Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, show that the Navy, at least from the 1930s, required its secretary's approval for any human experiments.

During World War II, the Committee on Medical Research, the predecessor to the National Institutes of Health, required fully informed volunteers and consent forms for any human experiments.

Such policies mark a sharp contrast to what was happening with the Manhattan Project, where in 1945 officials approved a top-secret experiment in which 18 people were injected with plutonium without their knowledge or consent.

Discovering how the federal government's human experiment policies have evolved, as well as how those policies have been implemented, is among the main puzzles now being worked out by the advisory committee.

Composed of 14 scientists, ethicists and physicians, the committee has a year to unravel the history of government-sponsored human radiation experiments, spotlighting what ethical policies may have governed such testing.

A key job for the committee is determining what standards of ethics should be used to judge the officials and doctors who conducted the human radiation experiments. The committee is also looking at contemporary standards to see if they need to be strengthened or overhauled. …