1950: Biologist Warns AEC Official, Radiation Experiments Comparable to Nazi Experiments

In 1950, Dr. Joseph G. Hamilton, a top radiation biologist at the AEC, sent a memo to Dr. Shields Warren, a senior AEC official who directed human radiation experiments; he warned him that the radiation experiments might have “a little of the Buchenwald touch,” and that commission officials “would be subject to considerable criticism” for conducting experiments in which human subjects were exposed to potentially harmful doses of radiation. “For both politic and scientific reasons,” he wrote, “I think it would be advantageous to secure what data can be obtained by using large monkeys such as chimpanzees” (NYT, 1993).

The NY Times quotes Dr. David Egilman*: “The memorandum, made available to The Times by Dr. David S. Egilman, a physician from Rhode Island who teaches at Brown University and has investigated instances of human experimentation by the military and the AEC. Dr. Egilman said the memorandum was a clear indication that the Government’s own nuclear scientists knew they were working at the very edges of medical ethics.”

“Based on their own documents and the history of medical ethics, they knew clearly at the time that the studies were unethical,” Dr. Egilman said. “They called this work, in effect, Nazi-like. The argument we hear is that these experiments were ethical at the time they were done. It’s simply not true.”

  • Dr. Egilman is a member of the Board of Directors of the Alliance for Human Research Protection