UNDUE RISK by Jonathan D. Moreno


Secret State Experiments on Humans
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A thoughtful look into the unfortunate penchant of 20th-century governments to test deadly weapons on their own citizens. In 1994, Moreno, a professor of medical ethics at the University of Virginia, was asked to join a presidential commission studying the effects of government radiation research on human subjects. (These experiments were first uncovered by journalist Eileen Welsome, whose new book The Plutonium Files, p. 1041, describes them in detail.) Here he recounts his experiences on the commission, but, more, he lifts his eyes from bureaucratic paperwork to consider the history of secret state testing of such horrors as anthrax, mustard gas, Zyklon B, Agent Orange, and other toxic brews on unfortunate subjects ranging from prisoners of war, garden-variety criminals, and civil service employees to military personnel. Moreno’s approach is that of a medical ethicist, and throughout he examines questions of disclosure and foreknowledge, claiming that “human experiments . . . are probably unavoidable in the real world of national security.” Unavoidable, perhaps, but those experiments have had a range of possible outcomes. With the Nazi doctors—a huge class of medical personnel who, it seems, welcomed the chance to conduct evil tests—the result was almost always death, “for if the “test persons” did not die in the experiment, they were usually killed so that witnesses would be eliminated.” For the technocrats whose tinkerings with science may have resulted in illness among thousands of US veterans of the Gulf War, the results were less lethal—but no less sinister. Moreno’s text is studded with interesting sidelights, among them the evolution of a code of medical ethics following the Nuremberg trials, and detours into little-known facts—among them the curious case of the murderer Nathan Leopold (of Leopold and Loeb infamy), who volunteered to be a test subject for antimalarial drugs during WWII, wanting to do his bit for the war effort. An always interesting—and often troubling—foray into matters about which we know far too little.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1999
ISBN: 0-7167-3142-8
Page count: 332pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1999


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