Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America by Allen M Hornblum, Judith L Newman and Gregory J Dober

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Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America by Allen M Hornblum, Judith L Newman and Gregory J Dober

Category: Politics and Society
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Margaret Young
Reviewed by Margaret Young
Summary: Against Their Will is a horrific story of human experimentation in the USA. It would be easy to write this off as irrelevant to British readers, but these experiments do have far reaching implications that are still very relevant here and now.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: July 2013
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0230341715

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If I told you that doctors had been using human beings in the most horrible of medical experiments, that they had done things like tie toddlers to beds to insert live pathogens into their eyes, injected children with radiation, sterilised those thought to be subhuman and even castrated a child just to get a supply of tissue for a lab experiment, you might very reasonably assume I am talking abut Nazi Germany. I am not.

Against Their Will chronicles America's use of unwilling participants in medical experimentation. It is easy to believe these claims are exaggerated, or even false, so before reviewing this book I spent a lot of time online researching the authors' claims. As far as I can see, the book has erred on the side of caution, failing to mention some of the most horrific cases and sticking to what can be proved. If anything, I feel this book only touches the tip of the iceberg. The authors of this book have resisted any urge to sensationalise. I'm very grateful that we are not given the most graphic details. Instead they give us enough information to know what has happened rather than blow by blow accounts of the horrific suffering involved. But it doesn't take much to imagine what these people suffered. This book is deeply disturbing, but is something that must be read.

The book begins with the Eugenics movement of the early 20th century. While notions of a pure race, selective breeding humans and the elimination of those not deemed worthy of life are often thought to have originated in Nazi Germany, they were in fact, every bit as much an American import as Coca Cola. American President Theodore Roosevelt wrote that society must not allow degenerates to reproduce their own kind. A famous American social reformer, Margaret Sanger felt that the poor and hungry should be allowed to die to prevent the unfit from being a burden upon the eugenically fit. In addition to forced sterilisation of 60,000 whom society determined must be removed from the gene pool, institutionalised children were subjected to horrific medical experimentation. Many of these children were intentionally fed human faeces infected with deadly diseases so doctors could chart the coarse of the illness and experiment with different means of transmission and treatment.

But the second world war cast Eugenics and any theories of a master race in an entirely different light. The Nuremburg Code placed strict regulation on the use of humans in medical experimentation, and one would think such brutality would have come to end. In reality it was only just beginning, especially as the cold war led to concerns about radiation. American doctors felt the Nuremburg Code was all well and good for Nazi Savages but should not be used to bully American doctors or researchers. The litany of abuse against the helpless went on and on with the last cases documented in this book taking place in the 1980s although these were less extreme. Those that I feel would qualify for execution in the same way in which the Nazi doctors were executed ended in the early 70's. So we can all breathe a sigh of relief that it all over now - only it isn't. The book mentions the outsourcing of human experimentation to Africa and other third world regions, and once again, a bit of research has shown that he is minimalizing rather than capitalising on the horrors.

The end of the book includes a chapter on research misconduct, in which I do not wholly agree with every conclusion the authors have come to, but I can not fault their facts. Finally we come to the conclusion of the book, which asks how could so many witnesses have allowed this to happen? We can all accept that there will always be a few humans capable of the most inhumane actions, but the torture endured by children and other innocents was witnessed by thousands of bystanders - why did no one speak out? This is the same question often asked about Nazi Germany, and I've never found an answer I could take any comfort from. This also draws attention to the fact that unethical research has not been stopped, but simply moved. They do not give the details of this, but once again, I did my own research and was sickened by what I found. Children are still being used as lab rats. Most medical research now takes place in third world countries, often without the consent or even prior knowledge of the parents, and at times with crippling or fatal results.

So how does this affect those of us living half a world away? In the first instance, all of the companies committing these crimes are based in the west. We bear some responsibility for allowing the crimes to continue. In addition, we depend on Big Pharma to protect our health, and that of our children. How much trust can we place in companies that have no concept of the word ethics?

If this book appeals then you might also appreciate:

Paralysed with Fear by Gareth Williams

The Elimination by Rithy Panh

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Buy Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America by Allen M Hornblum, Judith L Newman and Gregory J Dober at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America by Allen M Hornblum, Judith L Newman and Gregory J Dober at Amazon.com.


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