Our Responsibility to Acknowledge the Sacrifices Made by Individuals Throughout History
We all learn in public school science class of the major discoveries made by world renowned scientists and doctors. We all learn about the spread of STDs and the importance of protection to prevent a world of pain and unhappiness. We all learn about the evils of cancer and how the mysterious disease is infecting our world like a plague. We all learn about the anatomical makeup of our bodies and how the surgeries can heal us after an accident. But, we never learn about how this knowledge came about or, how the research was conducted. Why? Because once we learn how some of these discoveries came about, we’d feel guilty using the knowledge at the cost of men’s and women’s bodies throughout history.
Some of the medical knowledge we have today is because of unethical practices of medical professionals in the remote and recent past. The basis of scientific advancements is the sacrifice of humans and animals for experimentation. Without these sacrifices the developments of the medical field would not be present. Although they represented great losses and inflicted great pain , history suggests that these inhumane experiments needed to be conducted and were essential in improving the quality of life today.
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Of course, this argument is not about the experiments on unwilling humans for the sake of torture, rather than the advancement of science. Most of us have heard of the tortuous testing of Jewish subjects during the Holocaust, but many would be surprised to hear that the Japanese did the same types of “experiments” by order of the Imperial Japanese Army. According to the Harbin Museum, the work of Unit 731 during World War II was kept secret for over 40 years until the Japanese admitted to the horrific testing in 1984. These trials on human guinea pigs were used with the hope of preparing Japan for germ warfare. What we can learn by examining this use of humans in experiments is the difference between real scientific work and torture.
The formation of the Harbin group began with a young and bright student of the Kyoto Imperial University. Shiro Ishii studied medicine and the spread of disease throughout his academic career and because of his high performance level was sent to Kyushu to determine how to prevent a highly contagious disease that had been taking lives throughout Japan by severe swelling in the brain. His conclusion was that this disease was spreading through soldiers who were drinking parasites through dirty water. To prevent the spread of the illness he suggested implementing a water filtration system to eliminate parasites in the human diet.
After presenting his research to the Emperor of Japan, Ishii became a renowned scientist throughout the world, traveling to Russia, America, and Germany and sharing his knowledge of parasites and other scientific phenomena.
After establishing his credibility Ishii received funding for more projects and trials that would allow Japan to emerge as a major power in the 20th century through their knowledge of science. After one of his trips Ishii met Koizumi, a leading surgeon with ideas about chemical warfare testing. Following the Japanese invasion of Manchuria the two sought to open a facility to conduct tests. Despite a laboratory explosion the unit continued after moving its headquarters to Pingfan, China.
The operation was known as the “secrets of secrets,” due to its extreme confidentiality, which resulted in private entrances to the laboratories and offices through tunnels in order to keep others from knowing the trials going on inside.
Leader of the organization Shiro Ishii carried out his experiments and tests during the World War II in a hidden complex in Japanese-occupied Harbin China, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation. The location of the unit was chosen specifically because it had a plentiful source of human test subjects. Many victims were lured into the facility by promises of employment or other lies but were never seen again afterwards. Thousands died from the chemical testing. The test subjects were over 3,000 enemy civilians and soldiers (Harbin Museum) who were under Japanese control. These “guinea pigs” were infected with various diseases such as plague, anthrax, and cholera. According to “The horrors of Japan’s WWII ‘human experiments unit’: Disturbing images show how Chinese civilians and Allied POWs were dissected ALIVE and infected with the PLAGUE” author Sara Malm explains that individuals were dissected alive, after being refused anesthesia, during some trials. In others, women and men with sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis, were forced to engage in sexual activity to study how these diseases spread.
After the Japanese surrendered, the evidence of the experiments and testing was disposed of by shooting the remaining 400 prisoners, as revealed by the Biological Warfare Project in “Unit 731”, and the scientists promised to never speak of how the data was derived. However, since the 1980s the events have been coming to light due to the realization that some of the operations advanced medical knowledge.
In his essay, “Unmasking Horror—A Special Report: Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity,” New York Times columnist and human rights activist Nicholas Kristof states that once the revelation of the program was revealed the scientists devised a summary of their research to justify the operation to other countries and to Japanese officials. Some scholars agree that the motivation for the testing was to find cures for many diseases and plagues that were infecting the Japanese Army, and that much of the research actually did help helped to cure the soldiers. Though many of the findings are still classified to this day, we know some medical advancements made as a result to Unit 731. For example, the Japanese learned that the best way to cure frostbite was not rubbing the limb but soaking it in 100 degree water. This was learned after trials involving victims forcibly taken outside in wet clothing and freezing weather to acquire frostbite. Some authors speculate that some knowledge of STDs today is based on experiments done by Unit 731, yet much has still been unconfirmed.
Many torture-based studies don’t involve thousands of test subjects, but can begin with one doctor and a handful of patients. J Marion Sims, known as the “father of gynecology,” was a physician in South Carolina whose victims were enslaved African-American women.
In “The Medical Ethics of the ‘Father of Gynaecology’, Dr. J. Marion Sims,” L.L. Wall says that during the nineteenth century vesico-vaginal fistula was a common illness in women. Vesico-vaginal fistula, or VVF, results from a tear in the bladder and was a common recurring disease that resulted in women with the illness,being rejected and labeled as social outcasts. Before the work that, until the works of Dr. J. Marion Sims, no surgery or treatment could cure it.
Supported by Patrick O’Leary in “J. Marion Sims: a defense of the father of gynecology.”
Dr. Marion Sims has been credited with completing the first successful fistula operation in 1849 as well as creating the medical branch of gynecology, which is why he was crowned the father of gynecology. But all the research that led him to these advancements wasat the expense of enslaved women.
Sims’s attitude was as full fledged honesty. He was recorded saying, “I never pretended to to treat any of the diseases of women and if any women came to consult me on account of my functional derangement of the uterine system I immediately replied; this is out of my line, I do not know anything about it practically.” according to “The medical ethics of Dr J Marion Sims: a fresh look at the historical record” by L.L. Wall. A few years later, however, a women sought his assistance regarding pelvic pain that resulted from an incident of falling off a horse. The doctor, at first, believed she had dislocated her uterus and performed a procedure that involved the use of his finger to investigate her private area. After the appointment, he believed he could repair his patients fistula, which is where his fascination and determination to study VVF began.
Enslaved women with this illness were brought to Dr. Sims, against their will, by their masters, as explained by historian Jeffrey Sarton in “J. Marion Sims, the father of gynecology: Hero or Villain?” Because surgeons lacked modern knowledge and ethics at the time and did not view African Americans as having ownership of their body, enslaved women were not only operated on without their permission, but this was also done without the use of anesthesia. His first test subject, Lucy, almost lost her life during the failed operation due to the ignorant and uninformed surgeon. But, this didn’t stop Sims. He continued with experiments to further his understanding of VVF. With more investigations Sims developed new techniques and instruments to properly observe the female anatomy as well as deepen his knowledge of the anatomical structure. All this was at the cost of the pain of unconsenting women who were treated like lab rats.
Once Dr. Sims carried out a successful procedure on his test subjects, many wealthy white women came to his operating table for his expertise. After these tests he was able to treat VVF and cure many women of the terrible illness, creating a worldwide reputation for himself.
The positive results of Dr. Marion Sims’s work are clear: He invented medical tools, such as the vaginal retractor, that allow for a proper observation of the female body. He also prevented a painful future of VVF for many women. But, at what cost? His experimentation did not only disregard the right for women to have agency over their bodies but also exposed them to procedures that caused physical distress and could quite possibly lead to death. But without these experiments, would the same research have been accumulated?
Unethical experiments don’t always involve premeditated death and torture as a result of inhumane ways, but can also just be wrong due to a mere lack of respect for individuals.
Henrietta Lacks was an African-American cancer patient at the John Hopkins hospital during the early twentieth century. At the time of her illness, cancer was an area of mystery for the medical profession. Doctors knew nothing about this deadly group of illnesses and lacked the cure, and because of this, doctors became desperate for any information and ways to treat it.
Ms. Lacks presented symptoms of cancer to the hospital and underwent treatment to manage the illness. Throughout the period she was at John Hopkins Hospital, however, the family later became aware that samples were being drawn from her cancerous tumors (through a cervical-cancer biopsy) to form the HeLa line, the line of cells that led to scientific breakthroughs.
According to Jessica Stumps, “Henrietta Lacks and The HeLa Cell: Rights of Patients and Responsibilities of Medical Researchers,”Henrietta’s cells allowed scientists to make major breakthroughs about the behavior and makeup of human cells. Additionally, they found an enzyme present in cancerous cells and by using the HeLa were able to begin clinical trials to create a vaccine to combat it, according to Rao Radhika in “Informed Consent, Body Property, and Self-Sovereignty:”
It is widely agreed among the scientific and medical community that the donation of Henrietta Lacks’ cells were vital to the advancement of knowledge regarding cancer. However, many would be surprised to hear this act of kindness was hardly a donation at all.
Henrietta Lacks died a painful death at Johns Hopkins Hospital October 4th, 1951, at age 31, says Jessica Stump in “Henrietta Lacks and The HeLa Cell: Rights of Patients and Responsibilities of Medical Research.” Her doctor, George Gey, seemed to feel little remorse for the death of his dear patient compared to the excitement he felt for the birth of the biomedical industry. The lack of respect and consideration the doctor had for Ms. Lacks is illustrated within the article with the focus on the absence of informed consent.
Neither Ms. Lacks nor her family had any idea cells were being drawn from her cancerous tumor, let alone gave permission for the extraction to occur. At first the cell was introduced under the alias Helen Lane which led none to suspect the source of the cell was from Henrietta. Though, as the research conducted became more famous, the hospital and Dr. Gey finally revealed the true “donor” of the cancerous cells.
Without the consent to carry out the procedure, many researchers argue against the use of the research in the medical field. From the time of this event until now, awareness has increased about patient rights and the need to respect proper ethics in medical treatment.
Some scientists and scholars make the argument that all of these medical advancements could still have been made by ethical observation and harmless experimentation, and, for some illnesses that is the case. Those scholars argue that the experimentation, especially by the Japanese and by Dr. Sims, was purely a means of torture for individuals and was in no way needed to make these advancements. However, in my opinion we must look at the prior intentions in each case and determine whether the goal to heal was present in all cases, and whether research was attained to meet that goal. I believe that without all of these experiments we would not have the knowledge we do today and might be losing many lives to countless illnesses in the process.
Alternatives for the unethical procedures could have halted the research, so we have to weigh that as part of the cost. Dr. Gey could have asked the Lacks family for permission to take a sample of Henrietta’s cells, but if they had declined his offer our modern cancer research would not be as advanced. Dr. Sims did not have the knowledge of anesthesia at the time he treated his patients, though, if he had waited until there were advancements in anesthesia, many women with the illness in the nineteenth century could not have been cured. Lastly, the most extreme of the case studies, we would not have the knowledge of treating frostbite if not for the data collected from the Unit 731 research. Though these were acts of cruel experimentation performed by all the scientists, without their research from the studies, our medical knowledge would not as advanced. How do we balance the lives and pain of one group of people against the future patients’ patient survival?
The truth is, we cannot determine the value of lives over another; which is why our society has resulted in one where studies are made purely by the donation of bodies and individuals willingly. I do not believe that these sets of experimentations should have been done due to the unethical and tortuous nature of them, however, I do agree that they are the main reason we have the knowledge of cancer, STDs, frostbite, and VVF today.
At the conclusion of the research it seems to be a trend that, throughout history, many major medical breakthroughs resulted from motivated doctors or scientists trying to cure a disease and resorting to unethical procedures that took advantage of weak (and usually) poor individuals turned victims. It is our responsibility to acknowledge the sacrifices made by individuals throughout history, who had their choice taken away from them, and to give them credit for the medical knowledge we have today. We must also try to never let torture and suffering, especially of weak and poor victims, be a part of medical research in the future.
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Our Responsibility to Acknowledge the Sacrifices Made by Individuals Throughout History. (2021, Mar 13). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/our-responsibility-to-acknowledge-the-sacrifices/