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Medical progress saves lives, but sometimes scientists let the hope of a breakthrough get in the way of ethics. Recently, the United States government issued a formal apology to Guatemala for experiments done there in the 1940s that involved infecting prisoners and mental patients with syphilis.
The Guatemala project is just one of many terrible experiments done in the name of medicine. Some ethical lapses are mistakes by people sure they're doing the right thing. Other times, they're pure evil. Here are seven of the worst experiments on human subjects in history.
Nazi medical experimentsSlide 2 of 15
Nazi medical experiments
Perhaps the most infamous evil experiments of all time were those carried out by Josef Mengele, an SS physician at Auschwitz. Mengele combed the incoming trains for twins upon which to experiment, hoping to prove his theories of the racial supremacy of Aryans. Many died in the process. He also collected the eyes of his dead "patients," according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The Nazis used prisoners to test treatments for infectious diseases and chemical warfare. Others were forced into freezing temperatures and low-pressure chambers for aviation experiments. Countless prisoners were subjected to experimental sterilization procedures. One woman had her breasts tied off with string so SS doctors could see how long it took her baby to starve, according to an oral history collected by the Holocaust Museum. She eventually injected the child with a lethal dose of morphine to keep it from suffering longer.
Some of the doctors responsible for these atrocities were later tried as war criminals, but Mengele escaped to South America. He died in Brazil in 1979 of a stroke.Slide 3 of 15
Japan's Unit 731Slide 4 of 15
Japan's Unit 731
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, the Japanese Imperial Army conducted biological warfare and medical testing on civilians, mostly in China. The death toll of these brutal experiments is unknown, but as many as 200,000 may have died, according to a 1995 New York Times report.
Among the atrocities were wells infected with cholera and typhoid and plague-ridden fleas spread across Chinese cities. Prisoners were marched in freezing weather and then experimented on to determine the best treatment for frostbite. Former members of the unit have told media outlets that prisoners were dosed with poison gas, put in pressure chambers until their eyes popped out, and even dissected while alive and conscious. After the war, the U.S. government helped keep the experiments secret as part of a plan to make Japan a cold-war ally, according to the Times report.Slide 5 of 15
The "monster study"Slide 6 of 15
The "monster study"
In 1939, speech pathologists at the University of Iowa set out to prove their theory that stuttering was a learned behavior caused by a child's anxiety about speaking. Unfortunately, the way they chose to go about this was to try to induce stuttering in orphans by telling them they were doomed to start stuttering in the future.
Yes, orphans. The researchers sat down with children at the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors Orphans' Home and told them they were showing signs of stuttering and shouldn't speak unless they could be sure that they would speak right. The experiment didn't induce stuttering, but it did make formerly normal children anxious, withdrawn and silent.
Future Iowa pathology students dubbed the study, "the Monster Study," according to a 2003 New York Times article on the research. Three surviving children and the estates of three others eventually sued Iowa and the university. In 2007, Iowa settled for a total of $925,000.Slide 7 of 15
The Burke and Hale murdersSlide 8 of 15