Thursday, February 13, 2014

For the Good of Mankind: The shameful history of human medical experimentation by Vicki Oranksy Wittenstein

Twenty First Century Books, 2014

We’ve all heard of guinea pig scientists…the brave ones who boldly experimented on themselves to further medicine.  We applaud people like Marie Curie and Daniel Carrion who took that risk and put themselves in harm’s way for the good of humankind.  But there is a dark side to everything….

Simeon Shaw was a child from Australia who was diagnosed with cancer.  He was flown to the United States, along with his mother, to receive experimental treatment for his condition.  He died not knowing he was part of an experiment on human radiation.  Simeon died…

That was in 1946, but human experimentation has been going on long before Simeon.  Slaves were used is many gruesome ways, but they weren’t the only hapless victims.  Children in orphanages, those who were mentally handicapped, and prisoners were all subjected to the same harsh, dangerous and painful experiments doctors used to for research. 

There have been cases where this type of medical butchery has surfaced and created a maelstrom of outrage and recompense.  The most infamous ones were those done during the Holocaust by the notorious and odious Josef Mengele.  Another occurred in the United States...the Tuskegee experiment, in 1932.  African American men thought they were going to free clinics, when the fact was they were experiments on a study for syphilis, which can kill.  The facts weren’t exposed until much later when most of the men had died from health complications.  Then there was Henrietta Lacks, who wasn’t so much experimented upon as were her cells, which were taken without authority and harvested for biomedical experimentation.  Today, scientists still use her cells, even though she never gave consent for this back in 1951…

We may think that this type of abuse can’t possibly go on in the modern world, but it still does.  Think about all of those commercials you see on television asking for people to be part of a new “study” for a new drug.  Although consent is now law, there are still many countries where it isn’t, and where there’s ignorance of law and need for medicine, many people will suffer through “studies” hoping to receive health care in places where none exists.

Wittenstein writes a powerful and in-depth look at the subject of human experimentation from the past to the present.  She leaves no doubt about the horrors and scars they have left behind and writes about real life accounts that are occurring now.  The bottom line may not always be about advancing science so much as advancing ego or from financial gain.  This non-fiction book is different from others I’ve read because it goes further with the reader by having a book study/lesson guide at the end to create conversation.  As a young adult novel, it’s these types of questions that will stir not only emotion, but also morality and make teens think.  Wittenstein blurs the line and creates that gray area that people, from intellectual to working class backgrounds, will finds themselves in, wondering what is right and true while taking either side of the issue.  It is definitely clear  that Wittenstein has done some quality research, and has skillfully condensed it into a short non-fiction book (less than 100 pages) with actual photographs of some of these incidences.  But those 100 pages will make you think about this topic long after you put the book down.  Highly recommended for JH/HS

Book pair:

Non-Fiction:  Guinea Pig Scientists: Bold Self-Experimenters in Science and Medicine by Mel Boring, Leslie Dendy, and C.B. Mordan  

2005, Henry Holt and Co

Fiction:  Dr. Frankenstein's Daughters by Suzanne Weyn 
                   2013, Scholastic Press
            The Madman's Daughter by Morgan Shepherd 
                   2013, Balzer + Bray

1 comment:

Catherine Stine said...

Vicki's writing is great. And this book is creepy but totally absorbing--a must-read, folks!