Most basic science is performed using animal models on the assumption that we can learn something about humans by studying how other animals work. Obviously, the ethical issues surrounding human experimentation necessitates the use of animals models. It wasn't always this way though, and the history of science is littered with examples
of human experimentation. Nowadays, the use of humans and animals in science is highly regulated. Human experimentation is restricted to clinical trials only, and basic experimentation using animals is done in such a way as to minimize their use and to assure that the animals are being treated in the most humane fashion possible. The BBC has a good resource
for those interested in finding out more about the debate over the use of animals in science. Since the Declaration of Helsinki
in 1964, informed consent
has been of central importance when conducting any sort of human experimentation. This means that the subject must be made aware that they are being experimented on, and be informed of any and all risks associated with the experiment. As such, we'd like to think that the dark days of human experimentation are behind us and that there aren't any secret government labs conducting unethical human or animal experiments. In fact, we'd like to think that our government wouldn't perform covert experiments on it's citizens at all, with or without a Declaration of Helsinki. Unfortunately, this hasn't been true in the past. It is public knowledge
that the CIA was behind Project MKULTRA
, a bizarre program of experiments using American citizens as the Guinea pigs. The purpose of the program was to learn how to manipulate and deconstruct the human psyche with the deranged hope that such techniques would lead to a successful conclusion of the Cold War. The MKULTRA experiments included (but were not restricted to) treatment with radiation, LSD and other drugs, as well as subjecting people to sensory deprivation and other "mind-control" techniques. What's even worse is that the American government exported their experiments to Canada (my home). Between 1957 and 1964, an Scotish/American doctor named Ewen Cameron subjected Canadian citizens to brain-washing experiments involving electroshock therapy, LSD, drug-induced comas, and repeated exposure hours of recorded messages. Most of the unwilling subjects were seeking treatment for mental health issues for which they could have received help were it not for Dr. Cameron and the MKULTRA project. I know this all reeks of conspiracy theory, but its actually true and acknowledged as such by all of the interested parties.
In the States, the MKULTRA project was exposed in the 1970's, and the CIA made monetary amends to the victims for their actions. However, it was not until 1984 when the Canadian connection was became widely known. At that time, it was revealed that the Canadian government (John Diefenbaker as Prime Minister) knew about these experiments, and even provided some of the financing. For shame! Nine Canadians have received compensation from the CIA, while the Canadian federal government compensated 77 more in 1994. However, more than 250 people have been denied any recompense on the grounds that the experiments didn't mess them up enough! Recently, Janine Huard, a 78 year old Montreal woman who was a victim of Dr. Cameron's experiments, has attempted to launch a class-action suit against the Federal government to get the compensation she has been previously denied. News stories describing her efforts can be found here
.I don't think it's a matter of how much these experiments messed up the victims, but rather a question of whether the experiments were carried out with informed consent of the patient. As a whole, our society is very trusting of its doctors, police, teachers, and other custodians of the public good. And unlike many parts of the world, our trust is generally well-placed and we should be thankful for that. However, the MKULTRA project should serve as reminder that subjects, whether human or otherwise, deserve protection from undue treatment or experimentation. Will we witness another MKULTRA-like affair arising in the future, or are these incidents relics of the mid 20th century? If history has taught me nothing else, it is that history repeats itself over and over again...For those interested in the influence of drugs on artistic expression, check out this site
for a series of drawings done by an an artist while he was a test subject in one of the American goverment's LSD experiments in the 50's.