Medical experimentation on socially vulnerable groups


The use of human beings for purposes of experimentation includes individuals or groups of individuals drawn from sectors of society which are particularly vulnerable to gross abuses of power: prison inmates, psychiatric patients, old people, terminally ill patients, and the poor. Acts of abuse include the subjection of psychiatric patients to electric-shock experimentation; the administration of hallucinogens and poisons, such as LSD and curare; bombardment with tape-recorded messages; and the injection of prison inmates with live cancer cells for the purpose of studying the effects of the disease; injections of plutonium, thorium or radium to measure human retention.


In the 1950s, the US Army persuaded psychiatrists to secretly inject hallucinogenic drugs into mental patients. The objective was to investigate the utilization of psychochemical agents both for offensive use and for protection against them. One patient, admitted with depression, died after being given very high doses of a novel mescaline compound. It seems he knew he was taking an experimental drug but not that it was not designed to help his condition.

Young people in institutions for troubled adolescents were unknowingly fed radioactive cereal in order to trace where the iron and other nutrients in the cereal travelled to in the body and to learn more about the deposition of radioactivity in the body. The experiments were conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-sponsored by the US government's Atomic Energy Commission and the Quaker Oats company. In 1997, Quaker Oats and MIT agreed to pay US$1.85 million in compensation without admitting guilt.

Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST