When one thinks of human experimentation, he or she often conjures images of laboratories in horror films, such as The Human Centipede. Hopefully, the experiments in movies never come to fruition in reality, but human experimentation has a gruesome history worthy of stomach-turning recognition. Noteworthy doctors of human experimentation are engraved in history as barbarians and psychotic torturers and killers. However, human experimentation has been seen as a means to and end for some, and it has had science in its best interest, meanwhile overlooking the moralities of the experimenter’s infliction upon the experimented. In order to continue with human experimentation in and ethical and moral way, we must understand the history, the current use, and the worldly differences that occur across this broad, controversial spectrum of science.
Auschwitz was the workplace of one notorious human experimenter, Josef Mengele. He was an officer and a doctor who often worked at the ramp selecting those who would go to the gas chamber and those who would be sent to work camps. Mengele was often present at the ramp because he would also select those with genetic conditions to be extracted from the lines for further experimentation. One genetic condition that he particularly enjoyed were child twins, who were later termed “Mengele’s children.” Mengele’s experiments involved spinal surgeries that would leave one twin paralyzed or would involve the removal of one child’s sexual organs. In most cases the experiments lead to death. Thus, Mengele’s legacy is that of a torturer and murderer. However barbaric Mengele’s true goals were, he also had the intentions of creating a superior race and believed that if Aryans could continuously have twins, this would lead to a solution to racial genesis (Rosenberg, 2014). In his thought pattern, he was altruistic, a ridiculous consideration today.
The history of human experimentation began as soon as humans began to take interest in medicine, and it was a natural course. Documented human experimentation in the United States began in the late 18th Century. All experiments were said to have taken place in the name of science, but the subjects were often impoverished people who did not know they were involved in an experimentation process. In 1833, gastric medicine was gifted the knowledge gained from an experiment that left a man with a permanent open gunshot wound. He was said to have given daily verbal consent for the experiment to continue (Veracity, 2006).
Stories like this and Mengele’s Children eventually led to laws involving human rights. Nazi doctors were later tried in a court of law, which led to the Nuremberg Code, guidelines and principles for human experimentation. In 1974, when it was noted that inhumane experiments were still being conducted in America, congress created the National Research Act where experiments would require approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) (Xue, 2013).
IRB’s are still used today to trial medications, and the debate of human experimentation continues. Some argue that everyone who takes a medication for a behavioral disorder or chronic illness is part of a giant experiment. While that remains contestable, official human experimentation continues to trial new medications, as it must, as the first consumers of a medication are experiments whether official or not. The gruesome experiments of the past continue also, but not in civilized areas of the world unless by criminal activity.
The World Health Organization has created global policy to prevent cruel experimentation in different countries. However, questionable acceptance of this policy and general interpretation based on different ideologies and moral backgrounds still leaves room for the barbaric to occur. In the United Arab Emirates, for instance, the conflicting moralities are Islamic jurisprudence and Arabic law. This is not an argument about whether gruesome experiments should occur but rather how to involve disabled individuals (Hammad, 2014).
The scope of the argument for and against human experimentation is so broad and complex that it would be difficult to summarize half of the arguments in one discussion. Understanding the history and how it has transformed into today’s version of human experimentation is important when considering cultural values, ethics, and human morality. Most of us hope that the Josef Mengele days are over, but continued evaluation of world policy and ethical laws will help us to confirm that we never see a human centipede created in any laboratory on Earth.
- Hammad, H. (2014, fall). Medical experiments on persons with special needs, a comparative study of Islamic Jurisprudence vs Arab Laws: UAE law as case study. Issues in Law & Medicine (29)2. Retrieved from https://www.questia.com/library/journal/1P3-3576326391/medical-experiments-on-persons-with-special-needs
- Rosenberg, J. (2014, December 16). Mengele’s children: the twins of Auschwitz. About Education. Retrieved from http://history1900s.about.com/od/auschwitz/a/mengeletwins.htm
- Veracity, D. (2006, March 06). Human medical experimentation in the United States: the shocking true history of modern medicine and psychiatry (1833-1965). Natural News. Retrieved from http://www.naturalnews.com/019189.html
- Xue, A. (2013, May). Human experimentation: an analysis of the ethics of human experimentation. http://newtoncaps.org/zoo1/wp-content/uploads/sites/38/2013/05/Human-Experimentation1.pdf