During the Cold War, American scientists, pharmaceutical companies, and the U.S. military engaged in medical experimentation on children in the U.S.
Allen Hornblum, author of the book, Against their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America, joins VOR’s Jamila Bey to discuss how children became human research subjects in terrifying experiments. Some were used to test vaccines, doused with ringworm, subjected to electric shock, given lobotomies, fed radioactive isotopes and exposed to chemical warfare agents.
The conversation also includes two men who were experimented upon as minors. Austin LaRocque was institutionalized in the early 1950’s in Massachusetts because he was deemed “feeble minded,” and as such, was abandoned to the facility.
Austin was worked as a field hand and a mailman on the premises, and after some years was fed oatmeal served with radioactive milk and observed over a three month period. The truth of what happened to him wasn’t revealed until a reporter unearthed the story decades later.
Ted Chabasinski was born to a mother with mental problems, and was institutionalized and subjected to sexual abuse as a boy of just six. He was forced to undergo electric shock therapy, and has campaigned against the procedure for most of his life. Chabasinski earned a law degree and managed to advance a ballot initiative to ban shock therapy in Berkeley, California.
Chabasinski and Hornblum express concern that even today children are subjected to unethical medical experimentation in the US. Because these children are poor and without power or advocates, their stories may be harder to tell.