Overview of Medical Experiments on Prisoners

Research showed that medical experiment on prisoners started several decades ago and many prisoners have participated in medical research without their consent. For example, in 1946 the Guatemalan prison inmates were used in medical experiment where most of them were deliberately infected with syphilis. Studies showed that male prisoners were directly infected with the disease through direct injection to the penis (Reiter, 2009). Some prisoners were forced to have sex with the prostitutes who were infected with the disease. Some of the prostitutes were purposely infected with the disease in order to infect the prisoners. After sixty years when former president Barack Obama took over the power as the president of the United States, he called on Guatemala’s’ president Alvaro Colom personally for the abhorrent U.S. government-led research.

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            This is one case among other many cases were prisoners have been forced to participate in medical research without their consent. One of the controversial medical experiment that involved the use of prisoners occurred between 1965 and 1966, where Dr. Albert M. Kligman was contracted by Dow Chemical to determine the toxicity of the Vietnam War-era chemical warfare agent (Maron, 2014). In this experiment alone, about 75 prisoners were exposed to high doses of dioxin at Holmesburg prison in Pennsylvania. Dioxin was the main poisonous ingredient in Agent Orange. This is the one of the medical experiment where prisoners were used as the subject for the experiment and it received an outraged from the society.

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As a result, the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare published a report condemning the use of prisoner as human subject for the research. The report catalyzed the Federal Government to enact strict laws and regulation that limit the use of prisoner in experimentation (Bates & Harris, 2004). The strict regulations have categorized the use of prisoners in medical experimentation into individually beneficial research, low risk and non-intrusive. However, even after the enactment of the strict regulation limiting the use of prisoners in medical experiment as the human subjects 40 years, the use of prisoners in medical experiment still continues.  

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For instance, the most recent medical experiment that involved the use of prisoner as the subject for the research was between 2006 and 2008, where the drug company by the name Hythian contracted with jurisdiction in more than five states including Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Washington and Indiana (Maron, 2014). The medical experiment involved the enrollment of the prisoners into a drug addiction treatment program. As part of the experiment, state judges enrolled the prisoners who were found in possession of drugs as a participant in the experimental treatment program termed as Prometa.

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Considering this experiment together with that of Dr, Kligman that took place more than 40 years ago, there is no doubt that use of prisoners’ subjects in medical experiment has raised concern in the past and continues to raise concern in the modern world. Further studies have shown that more medical experiments are conducted on prisoners in the United States, Universities, the Federal Government and private drug companies (Reiter, 2009). Literature review have shown that leading pharmaceutical companies carried out their medical experiment on the prisoners and some of the notable medical experiment included testing of dandruff treatments and studying of chemical warfare agents.

Based on the recent studies that showed that HIV infections in prison is relatively higher as compared to the general populations. Research showed that the prevalence rate in prison is 5 times higher than in the general population. Similarly, the findings showed that the prevalence rate of Hepatitis C is higher in prison as compared to the general population. Based on these findings, it is prudent to carry out a medical experiment to determine factors that increases the infection rate in the prison.

Conducting medical research using prisoners subject has elicited vibrant debate among the ethicists, civil societies, human right defenders, medical practitioners and the general public. Some have argued that it is unethical to force or coerce the prisoners to take part in medical experiment without their consent (Reiter, 2009). On the other hand, some have argued that conducting medical experiment using prisoners as the subject is beneficial to the public since the outcome of the experiment helps the medical professionals to make informed decisions and in most cases, it lead to the discovery of vaccines or drugs that can treat or cure certain diseases. It is evident that balancing between ethics and public benefits is a delicate matter since each side argues their case to satisfy their interest. In this case, it is important to discuss the detrimental effect associated with medical experiment carried out using prisoners and benefits it has to the general public.

Some of the detrimental effect include long-term side effects cause by the medical experiment. For example, medical experiment conducted by Dr. Kligman left many prisoners that took part in the experiment with permanent side effect such as rushes in their skin. In fact some came forward and filed a law suit against the pharmaceutical company that contracted Dr. Kligman to conduct the medical experiment and some have received compensation for the damages. Another detrimental effects is the development of complication such as insanity and sterility especially in the case of syphilis infections. Evidence-based studies have shown that syphilis can cause sterility among men and can lead to mental problems if the disease is not managed properly. There is likelihood that some of the prisoners that were infected with syphilis deliberately developed other complications. The other negative effect associated with medical experiment is loss of life. There is high chances that a subject can succumb to illness if some drugs are administered in higher doses.

Despite of all these negative effects, there are some benefit associated with medical experiments conducted using prisoners. For example, prisoners represent all the ethnicity and races thus giving a more representative sample. This means that the findings from the study gives more accurate result. Generally, medical experiments conduct using human subject does not involves the use of more representative sample, since the minority groups are represented more than other groups. The second benefit that is associated with medical experiment conduct using prisoners it leads to the development of medicines that can treat various diseases thus benefiting the general public. In the conclusion, the tight control on the use of prisoner to carry out medical experiment should be implemented accordingly in order to ensure that prisoners that take part in the study were not forced or coerced but agreed to take part in voluntary basis.

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