December 19

1992: Jay Katz, MD, admonishes the IOM to Consider the Ethics not just “cold science”

Following the compelling testimonies of the soldiers who had been subjected to poison gas experiments, Jay Katz, MD the distinguished Yale professor of law and medical ethics wrote a letter to the IOM Committee, strongly criticizing the IOM for severely limiting the Committee’s task to an evaluation of “cold scientific knowledge” without a consideration of the ethics. He made the case that although they were not asked to make a judgment about the ethics of such experiments, in light of the Nuremberg Tribunal’s retrospective judgment about the ethics of Nazi doctors’ conduct; the committee should not limit its judgment. (Jay Katz is on AHRP’s honor roll for holding the medical profession’s feet to the fire.)

Against the background of an unethically conducted series of experiments, you are charged to contemplate, on the basis of cold scientific knowledge, the relationship between exposure to mustard gas and subsequent physical illness. . . If you attend only to this limited scientific task, you may be abdicating your responsibility to condemn such studies for 1992 and beyond, even if you wish to excuse them for 1943–45 when supposedly our ethical sensitivities were less developed. . .

The experiments were conducted in the spirit of cheap availability of human . . . with utter disregard to alternative ways of proceeding. . . As doctors we ask our patients to trust us and this trust was manipulated, exploited and betrayed. . . Regulation or no regulation, our soldiers expected better of doctors, but instead they were treated as guinea pigs. That fact, “good” excuses notwithstanding, must remain deeply etched in our minds. Military recruits were induced to become test subjects with promises of leaves. They were treated as “cheap, available human beings . . . with utter disregard for alternative ways of proceeding . . . without regard to the future welfare of the participants. The lack of any [ ] continuing accountability, once the physician-investigators who designed and conducted the experiments had returned to civilian life, is most disturbing.

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