Sydney A. HalpernFeb 9, 2022
The Story Behind Human Experiments with Hepatitis
Yale University Press 2021
From 1942 through 1972, American biomedical researchers deliberately infected people with hepatitis. Government-sponsored researchers were attempting to discover the basic features of the disease and the viruses causing it, and develop interventions that would quell recurring outbreaks. Drawing from extensive archival research and in-person interviews, Sydney Halpern traces the hepatitis program from its origins in World War II through its expansion during the initial Cold War years, to its demise in the early 1970s amid outcry over research abuse. The subjects in hepatitis studies were members of stigmatized groups--conscientious objectors, prison inmates, and developmentally disabled adults and children. Dangerous Medicine: The Story Behind Human Experiments with Hepatitis (Yale UP, 2021) reveals how researchers invoked military and scientific imperatives and the rhetoric of common good to win support for the experiments and access to potential recruits. Halpern examines consequences of participation for subjects' long-term health, and raises troubling questions about hazardous human experiments aimed at controlling today's epidemic diseases.
Claire Clark is a medical educator, historian of medicine, and associate professor in the University of Kentucky’s College of Medicine.