How the US Government used Black people as guinea pigs

How the US Government used Black people as guinea pigs
  • PublishedOctober 1, 2012

Africa, the current guinea pig

In the wake of the Tuskegee Experiment, the US Congress passed, in 1974, the National Research Act. The laws regulated experimentation on humans and ensured that anyone participating in an experiment be properly informed, beforehand. But despite new restrictions and regulations, experimental abuses continued.

In the 1990s, medical researchers gave a banned diet drug, fenfluramine, to dozens of African-American and Hispanic boys, aged 6 to 10, to see, bizarrely, whether or not the drug could help predict if the boys were likely to become criminals as adults. The boy’s families were given $125 for their children’s participation in the study.

Harriet Washington, the author of Medical Apartheid, worries that after years of progress, regulations governing medical experimentation are being diluted by pressure from drug companies and medical researchers. She is upset, for example, at recent changes allowing researchers to experiment, without consent, on anyone who seeks care in a hospital emergency room. “I’m very concerned about the erosion of informed consent in this country,” says Washington. “I say we have to stop this.”

Washington is also concerned about experimentation without consent in Africa, which she says has been a chief target in the past and will be a chief target of foreign researchers in the future. “A lot of the abuse on African-Americans has dissipated,” she says, “but that kind of research is being conducted in Africa. They don’t have rights. They don’t have access to medical care otherwise, and Africa is being treated as a laboratory for the West by Western researchers. It is troublesome.” 

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