December 28

1973: Jessica Mitford’s Powerful Expose Brought Experiments on Prisoners to a Halt.

Jessica Mitford’s article “Experiments Behind Bars,” in the Atlantic Monthly, 1973, followed by her book Kind and Usual Punishment: The Prison Business, 1973, exposed massive exploitation of U.S. prisoners who served as incarcerated “lab rats” in pharmaceutical drug research and government mind control experiments. Until Mitford’s powerful indictment, from 1962–1975, prisoners were the preferred experimental subjects for medical research funded by both government and industry. Phase I drug safety tests on behalf of pharmaceutical companies were conducted almost exclusively on prisoners who were viewed as “test material.”

Dr. Albert Sabin, who had tested his live virus polio vaccine on prisoners, argued that prisoners were ideal subjects for research: they were “a stable, long-time permanent study group.” Tropical disease tests, respiratory infections, skin infections, hepatitis, and “pain tolerance studies” were all conducted on prisoners. By 1974, 70% of drugs approved by the FDA were tested on prisoners. Mitford had the greatest influence on bringing this lucrative venue to a halt. Read more…* Cheaper Than Chimpanzees; (Hornblum. They Were Cheap and Available, BMJ, 1997; Amy Landa. When Medicine and Ethics Meet in the Public Sphere: The Role of Journalism in the History of Bioethics, 2009


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