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Exploitative experiments with slaves

History is littered with exploitative experiments in humans. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment is probably one of the most infamous. From 1932 to 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service offered 600 African-American men food, free medical care and burial insurance for participating in the study. About 400 of these poor Alabamans had syphilis. The government studied the natural progression of the disease until death, even though penicillin was an easy, cheap and safe cure.

This type of medical testing – empirical study through controlled trials – began in earnest in the late 1700s. Many poor souls were subjected to medical testing. In Europe and its American colonies, drug trials tended to overselect subjects from the poor and wards of the state, such as prisoners, hospital patients and orphans. Most experimental subjects came from the same groups used for dissection – that is, persons with no next of kin to insist on burial rites or to pay for expensive cures.

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Image: Lancet used to make small punctures – generally four or five – in the arm or leg for the purpose of inoculation. Wellcome Images (L0057752), CC BY

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