The American biological experiments

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In 2015 a probe was done by USA Today on the real facts on biological experiments in America where the investigation found out that there were over 200 high-containment lab facilities in all the 50 states (Young & Nick, 2015 ). So far, the speculations indicated high-level risks of some of the experiments conducted on healthy human beings to an animal such as lab rats. There were reports that there were experiments done on humans that possibly failed, and likely, confidential under classified files within the government laboratories. On the other hand, there have also been concerns about the progress of ethics and regulations of procedures or processes for experimenting on both human and animals. Rensik (2017 ) created a timeline where the early 20th century victims were barely aware of what was done to them meaning ethics on “right to consent” was barely recognized. So far, the government has published laws where the vulnerable groups (prisoners, weak economic status, pregnant women, children and mentally disabled ) would not be a part of such experiments among other litigations.

So far, all experiments are done to consenting adults or volunteers who have undergone clinical tests to ensure they were healthy before the biological experiment. On the other hand, according to Maron (2014 ), there have also been serious debates on the ethical boundaries of including prisoners in experiments where the law does demand more accountability and protections of inmates. Therefore, there have been questions on if the permits to let researchers experiment on prisoners would spiral to other vulnerable groups such as children. Also, there have been concerns about the use of coercion especially on vulnerable prisoners, and the government plans to ensure experiments done on the prisoners were consensual.

Still, there have also been more grieving concerns including the secrecy of research laboratories and the extent to which the risks exposed to participants or animals were ever kept at a minimum. In other words, it has not been clear the extent to which a biological experiment could go wrong and how much of the contingent measures would always work.

History of Ethics in Biological Experiments

One of the common experiments that not only violated human rights but seriously compromised the general public was the Tuskegee Syphilis Study of 1946 (Heintzelman, 2003 ). The experiment comprised of 400 African American men that were already infected with syphilis but were lured into the experiment under the promise of getting free treatment. The dark side of the experiment was that the subjects were treated with heavy metal therapy and despite, the knowledge that Penicillin would effectively treat syphilis the scientist only withheld the experiment but never at one time treated the subjects with any antibiotics. In other words, the U.S.PHS prevented the treatment, and by 1972 only 74 of the subjects were still alive from the experiment. According to the reports only 28 died from advanced syphilis even though there have been fearing that at least 100 or more may have died.

As a result of the unethical conduct and outright negligence of USPHS, National Research Act passed a law that ensured all research conducted on human subjects had to be approved by the Institution Review Board (IRB ), and from that law, the surviving subjects received $40, 000 in compensation. Therefore, the charges were mainly because of conducting an experiment to nonconsenting participants, the withholding of penicillin from the subjects despite being aware of medicine’s effectiveness against the virus and failure to keep accurate records of the experiment. The charges brought against USPS were the first marker for history on the journey of ethics in biological experiments. So far, there have been several other cases brought against medics including the Hepatitis Experiment done during the mid to late 20th century at The Willowbrook State School. Here, the mentally disabled children were intentionally infected with the virus while the scientists observed how it progressed and to make it worse the experiment was approved by the New York Department of health. According to Robinson and Brandon (2008 ), there were too many criticisms against the study considering that even through Krugman had the consent of the parents; he never explained all the risks that would come with the experiment including the risk of liver failure of the virus that would lead to eventual death.

How much risk is too much risk

There has been protection against all participants in that they would only be allowed to consent to a biological experiment if they were aware of all its risks and the researchers would do everything in their capacities to keep the exposure to the risks of the bear minimum. In other words, ambiguous terms of risk controls have been a contentious issue. If the USA Today reports could prove true that there have been missing lab rats and risks of exposure to harmful bacteria or viral agents, it could mean that the risk controls would not be contained fully. Also, people under biological experiments could sometimes suffer from other effects that may not have been necessarily observed during the development of an antigen. Therefore, the issue is if the government and the research scientists have always been prepared for the unforeseen risks resulting from the experiments.

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  1. Heintzelman, C. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study and Its Implications for the 21st Century. 10:4, 2003. <http://www.socialworker.com/feature-articles/ethics-articles/The_Tuskegee_Syphilis_Study_and_Its_Implications_for_the_21st_Century>
  2. Maron, D. Should Prisoners Be Used in Medical Experiments? – Scientific American. 2014. Web. <https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/should-prisoners-be-used-in-medical-experiments/>
  3. Resnik, D. Research Ethics Timeline (1932-Present). 2017. Web. <https://www.niehs.nih.gov/research/resources/bioethics/timeline/>
  4. Robinson, W. & Unruh, B. The Hepatitis Experiments at the Willowbrook State School. 2008.
  5. Young, A. & Penzenstadler, N. Inside America’s Secretive BioLabs. 2015. Web. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/05/28/biolabs-pathogens-location-incidents/26587505/>
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