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Compliance In Focus
Posted by Natalie Jarmusik on Fri, Nov 7, 2014

1944-1974 – Human Radiation Experiments

You may be familiar with IMARC Research’s History of Clinical Research (HCR). We Human Radiation Experimentsrecently released an eBook about it that briefly describes all of the images that currently make up the timeline. If you have visited our office, you may have also been given a guided tour of one of our most renowned resources. Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received, we will be highlighting each time point with a series of blogs that we plan to release over the course of the 2014 calendar year.

Designed with good intentions that yielded disastrous effects, the human experiments on radiation mark a dark spot on the United States’ history of clinical research. From 1944-1974 the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) with the help of several other government agencies, including the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health, conducted over 4,000 secret and classified radiation experiments and releases on millions of unknowing US citizens. These efforts were initiated in preparation for a possible nuclear attack during the Cold War. In order to assess how the human body metabolizes radioactive material, people unknowingly participating in the experiments were exposed to nuclear fallout from testing of more than 200 atmospheric and underground nuclear offense weapons as well as a hundred more secret releases of radiation into the environment. Orphanages provided children food containing radioactive material, hospital patients received plutonium injections during routine stays, and deceased bodies previously exposed to radiation were exhumed without familial consent for examination. Residents of Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico were affected most, living in environments containing radioactive contaminated food and water sources. In fact, when reviewing classified documents from the AEC, Carole Gallagher, author of American Ground Zero: The Secret Nuclear War, discovered that people living downwind of the Nevada Test Site were described as a “a low use segment of the population” as justification for executing radiation experiments in this particular, lower-class region.

See how history has shaped clinical research practices. 

Though justice for many victims of the radiation experiments was never received, in 1994 President Clinton formed the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) which released 1.6 million pages of classified records documenting details of the tests conducted.  In October of 1995, a thousand-page final report was outlined in a White House presentation of the experiments. The AEC’s focus on human experimentation serves as another example in history where unfortunate events both challenged and improved research ethics. Their occurrence contributed to the passing of the National Research Act in 1974.  This act created the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research.  The commission published the Belmont Report, which in turn led to the Common Rule.  For more historical examples like this one, be sure to check out IMARC Research’s History of Clinical Research. Can you think of any other events, whether current or historical, that have fostered the improvement of human subject protection? Leave your thoughts below!

Image Credit: Nicolette Capuano

The History of Clinical Research


Topics: History of Clinical Research, Human Radiation Experiments, Department of Defense


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