Human Medical Experimentation: From Smallpox Vaccines to Secret Government Programs

By Bemis, Michael F. | Reference & User Services Quarterly, Fall 2017 | Go to article overview

Human Medical Experimentation: From Smallpox Vaccines to Secret Government Programs


Bemis, Michael F., Reference & User Services Quarterly


Human Medical Experimentation: From Smallpox Vaccines to Secret Government Programs. Edited by Frances R. Frankenburg. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2017. 322 pages. Acid free. $89.00. (ISBN 978-1-61069-897-9). E-book available (978-1-61069-898-6). Call for pricing.

Tests involving the living human body is a topic with a long and troubling history, yet without these trials, we would all still be living in medical dark ages. In her "Preface," editor Frankenburg states that "This encyclopedia covers some of the key events and people involved in the history of experimentation on humans. The goal is to provide a readable reference for those wanting to learn more about the experiments themselves as well as the researchers who explore health and illness by carrying out tests on human subjects" (xi).

Taking a chronological approach, the editor divides the text into six historical eras: Pre-nineteenth century, nineteenth century, twentieth century to World War II, World War II, Cold War, and post-Cold War to the present. Each section opens with an "Introduction," which provides historical context and background information. This is followed by a "Timeline" of important dates covering medical discoveries, publications, and the like. The bulk of each section is comprised of alphabetically arranged entries concerning physicians/scientists (William Harvey, who first accurately described the circulation of the human bloodstream), documents (Declaration of Helsinki, "the first attempt of the international research community to regulate itself" [185]), events (polio vaccine trials), and organizations (Institutional Review Boards). "Documents" presents a smattering of excerpts from books, diaries, and other primary sources that offer the reader a firsthand account of what has been previously discussed. Lastly, "Further Reading" concludes each section with a bibliography of relevant sources.

It should be noted that Frankenburg is evenhanded in her coverage of personalities and occurrences. …

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