1960–1972: Whole-body radiation experiments

1960–1972: University of Cincinnati Medical School researchers led by Dr. Eugene Saenger conducted whole-body radiation experiments on 88 patients its charity hospital — 62% of who were African American. These experiments may have caused the most deaths and they spanned the most years.

All but one of the 88 patients has since died. “Following exposure to 100 rads of whole body radiation (about 7,500 chest X-rays), Amelia Jackson bled and vomited for days and became permanently disabled.”

Martha Stephens, a junior faculty member at U Cincinnati wrote a report that brought the experiment to a halt in 1972.

The experiment was funded by the DoD and had absolutely no potential therapeutic value for the patients. Dr. Saenger had reason to know that the experiment was likely to cause harm; he was among the first to report — in 1960 — that children exposed to irradiation for benign conditions developed tumors. Within a month of radiation, 21 of 88 people in the experiment died. A class action suit was filed against 13 researchers and their institutions in 1994. Federal Judge Sandra Beckworth “compared the deeds of the doctors to the medical crimes of the Nazis during World War II and refused to dismiss the researchers from the suit.” Indeed, the experiment was designed to answer how much radiation could a soldier withstand in the event of a nuclear explosion, before becoming disabled?

Under the Court agreement, in addition to compensation for the families of those who had been victimized, the University of Cincinnati was required to place a plaque which reads, in part: “The Cincinnati citizens listed below were the innocent victims of human radiation experiments in this hospital from 1960 to 1972. Their names are placed here so that all may remember their injuries and afflictions, and their unwitting sacrifice in a project sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense and carried out by professors in the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine.” In her book, The Treatment: Those Who Died in the Cincinnati Radiation Tests (2002) Prof. Stephens writes, “It seemed to me then, and it seems to me now, that we had become a secret slaughterhouse, a secret death camp”.

Dr. David Egilman, a clinical associate professor of community health at Brown University, has argued that it was known that total body radiation was not effective for the types of solid tumors the patients had. “What happened here is one of the worst things this government has ever done to its citizens in secret.” *Dr. Egilman is a member of the AHRP board of directors.