Joining the military in America is, by some, considered the most patriotic duty one can fulfill; a noble and brave decision made by young men and women to protect and fight for our country.
CNN Health recently came out with an article sharing stories from a few of the some 7,000 Army soldiers who took part in a program at Edgewood Arsenal between 1955 and 1975. This was a top-secret program that included drug and chemical testing on soldier “volunteers”. These were mostly young men who were recruited for the experiments.
The stories include that of:
- Wray Forrest, a 17 year old from a small town in Georgia. During his two months at Edgewood he was injected with high doses of Ritalin, a Schedule II drug. He said he was told “they were looking for soldiers to test Army gear, vehicles, and military combat equipment. The duty sounded attractive: a four-day work week with three-day weekends, no duty assignments other than testing the equipment.”
- Tim Josephs volunteered for a two month stint at Edgewood. This soldier was also lured by the promise of three-day weekends and light duty. He instantly knew something wasn’t right when he arrived but was threatened with jail and a tour in Vietnam. Josephs was not sure what he was given but says “Sometimes it was an injection, other times it was a pill”.
- Stephen Coffman describes how “Edgewood Arsenal recruiters came to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he was stationed and told him he could help design the new field artillery computer system.” He goes on to describe being locked in a “padded cell” for a period of days with orange walls that “flowed down onto the floor like lava”. When his time in the “padded cell” was completed he was shown a paper that he signed, agreeing to volunteer for more experiments. Not only did he not remember signing the document, he was told if he did not participate in such experiments he would be given a UNSAT. In military terms this means a soldier is “unsatisfactory”. So the experiments continued, and when he attempted to record what had been injected into him, he was then threated with punishment.
When I consider what it means to volunteer for an experimental test or study, I think about how important it is to have Good Clinical Practice (GCP) and the Federal Regulations to protect such people. In 1955 to 1975, we didn’t have these regulations or requirements for obtaining a person’s Informed Consent.
While reading the article, if this happened today, there would be some clear violations of both the regulations and GCP. The regulations and GCP describe that in an Informed Consent document, there should be a statement that the study involves research, and the purpose of that research. Wray Forrest, Tim Josephs, and Stephen Coffman were not told that committing to Edgewood was committing to research experiments. Many of these soldiers were threatened and coerced into participation. There was no statement informing the soldiers this participation was voluntary, no statement describing risks and benefits, just a few requirements for Informed Consent today.
Later in 1985 the Freedom of Information Act allowed soldiers like Stephen Coffman to obtain records during his time in the Army and Edgewood to learn what he had been exposed to. Despite all of his experiences and potential negative health consequences, strangely he doesn’t regret it. He states in the article "I believe it may have helped save the lives of other soldiers in the case of chemical attacks. I recall that (the doctor) who conducted the tests was instrumental in helping the victims of the Tokyo subway terrorist attack. I guess it is like when a service member goes to war and gets wounded but does not regret their decision to go to war."
And he is not alone; many other soldiers also say they would do it again for the benefit of their country. Is it patriotic duty vs. your rights as an American? Do you think this could happen today?
Photo Credit: expertinfantry