Although artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies have helped us simulate various processes, back in the days, studies were purely experiential in nature. In the sense, to study the effect of a particular drug, medical researchers had to inject it to a test subject and monitor the changes. If you think that it is disturbing, then what if I told you that a group of researchers deliberately kept a half-dead person alive for the sake of science? In fact, this is just one out of many disturbing scientific experiments conducted on humans. Surprisingly, many of these were sanctioned and were under the close eyes of a prominent public figure, since they were clearly illegal. These are the 10 horrible acts conducted in the name of science.
1. Studying the natural progression of untreated syphilis
In early 1930s, the United States government and public health service have conducted various experiments that they clearly knew would be harmful to test subjects. One among them was the study of untreated syphilis. For them to get enough data, with the help of Guatemalan president Juan José Arévalo, they deliberately infected soldiers, prostitutes, prisoners, and mental patients with syphilis. That’s not all, while this experiment was conducted in Guatemala, 600 more were infected in Alabama. Although this chain of experiments continually took place till 1940s, the government was silent until 1997. In 1997, President Bill Clinton apologised for the Alabama incident. Furthermore, in 2010, the US government apologised to Guatemala for this sinful study.
2. Infected mosquitoes as a bio-weapon
Biological warfare was extensively used by the British Army back in the 1760s. Even though it was less prevalent in the 1800s, biowarfare quickly became a test subject during World War I and II. To understand the true potential, the US Army conducted a bizarre experiment. Initially, they would infect millions of mosquitoes and then release them to bigger cities to see its impact. Subsequently, many people including the researchers were infected. The diseases include fevers, respiratory problems, stillbirths, encephalitis, and typhoid.
3. Unit 731
Unit 731 of the Imperial Japanese Army was held responsible for many disturbing war crimes. Housed in the city of Harbin, this camp would conduct atrocious experiments on men, women, children, infants, and pregnant women from China and Russia. These experiments included the removal of organs without anaesthesia, deliberately amputating for the study of blood loss, biowarfare attacks, and weapons testing. That’s not all, there are rumours that the researchers surgically removed the stomach and oesophagus to reattach them to the intestines. Despite committing such misdemeanours the scientists involved in Unit 731 pursued a glamorous career in politics or medicine.
4. Radioactive materials on pregnant women
From the title itself, it is evident as to how ruthless the researchers of this study were. Despite knowing the consequences of this study on the infant at the womb, 829 pregnant women were tricked into this study. The researchers offered them “vitamin drinks” that supposedly contained traces of radioactive iron. In fact, the researchers were more concerned as to how quickly the radioisotope would cross into the placenta. Shortly after the study, many women were diagnosed with cancer and as much as 7 babies died as a result of leukaemia.
5. Mustard gas experiment
Perhaps the most controversial experiment conducted by the US government, the files for this study were only declassified in 1991. Mustard gas was widely used during World War I. Seeing this as a threat, the Navy built protective equipment to prevent their soldiers from catching burns. In order to test the effectiveness of this equipment, they took many 17-year-old and 18-year-old boys as a test subject. In 1943, they were taken to Naval Research Laboratory, wherein they were exposed to this gas. Unfortunately, the equipment wasn’t much effective as many of them suffered from internal and external burns. To keep things secret, the participants were threatened with the Espionage Act.
6. Surgical experiments on slaves
The father of modern gynecology, J. Marion Sims, was definitely not a modest person. He wouldn’t have received a respectable and credible position in the medical field if it wasn’t for his surgical experiments. In fact, he used to perform several surgeries on women just for the sake of learning something new. During a lecture, Sims admitted to have not used any anaesthetics while performing the surgeries. In his words, the operations we’re “not painful enough to justify the trouble”. Although it is unclear as to whether Sims received the test subjects’ consent or not, a social work professor says Sims “manipulated the social institution of slavery to perform human experimentations, which by any standard is unacceptable.”
7. Thomas Edison’s AC Demonstration
Thomas Alva Edison, an ambitious inventor and a pioneer in Electrical engineering was once a part of a dispute with Nikola Tesla. While Edison had just invented the incandescent bulb, Tesla joined him to convey his thoughts on Alternating Current. Edison, a very wise businessman, saw this as a threat to his work and business. With plans of setting up power grids to transmit direct current, Edison had no other choice but to debunk Tesla’s AC. For that, he holds a public demonstration to show the dangers of AC. Shortly after killing dozens of dogs, and 1 elephant, Edison took things to the next level by supplying AC through the body of a human being. William Kemmler, a convicted murderer, was the test subject, and it didn’t take much time for him to succumb to AC. For the sake of discrediting Nikola Tesla, Edison killed a person.
8. Emma Eckstein
When 27-year-old Emma Eckstein sought treatment for stomach ailments and slight depression, Sigmund Freud conducted disturbing surgical procedures over the course of 3 long years. She was only given local anaesthesia, and her nose was cauterized. Moreover, to keep her unconscious, Freud gave cocaine. To trick her into all of this, the German doctor told her that the surgery was for hysteria and excessive masturbation. But there are rumours that associate Eckstein as both colleague and patient.
9. Experiments on newborns
University of California had an ongoing experimental research on blood pressure in the 1960s. For them to study the changes in blood flow, the researchers used 113 newborns between the ages of 1 hour to three days. In one of the experiments, a catheter was inserted into the aorta through the umbilical cord. Furthermore, for getting results for one of their studies, 50 newborns were individually strapped to a circumcision board, and titled in such a way that the blood rushed to their head. That’s not all, they even immersed newborn’s legs into icy water for the purpose of studying aortic pressure. The experiments were inhuman, and considering the fact that it was done on newborns, made it even worse.
10. Hisashi Ouchi
The tale of Hisashi Ouchi is unsettling and shows how far the scientists care about a test subject’s health. Ouchi was a technician who worked for a nuclear fuel conversion company, Tokaimura. Amidst his work, he was exposed to nuclear radiation. In fact, he was exposed to the highest amount of radiation any human has ever been exposed to in documented history. Seeing this as an opportunity, researchers shifted him to their facility and studied his body for 83 days. He was resuscitated three times against his will. Furthermore, his skin peeled off and he was continuously losing body fluids. Just before a week he was euthanized following a heart failure, Ouchi said “I can’t take it anymore…I am not a guinea pig”. Shortly after the experiment went public, people criticised the researchers for not having any concern for Ouchi’s life.