Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America

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At what point were laws passed addressing unethical practices, and what would have been the procedure for reporting and investigating claims of abuse? What would the consequences if any of braking said laws? Have any of the victims been recompensed in any way for the long-term effects of these experiments? This book would make good elective reading choice for a US history or history of psychology class, but it could have been so much more.

As an aside, one statement that caught my eye was that Senator Edward Kennedy was the Chair of the Health and Scientific Research Subcommittee when some of these abuses were investigated. Considering Walter Freeman aka the Henry Ford of Icepick Lobotomies and partner James Watts performed the lobotomy that rendered Rosemary Kennedy an imbecile, no doubt Senator Kennedy had a few colorful thoughts about doctors who throw ethics to the wind when experimenting on intellectually challenged children. Perhaps the authors felt that including that tidbit would weaken their argument about the victims of these atrocious wild-west experiments being defenseless.

Frankly, I think it makes the argument stronger. The Kennedys were educated, wealthy, and powerful; yet even they couldn't keep their daughter from being the victim of fad medical practices or from falling into the hands of an egomaniac hell-bent on making a name for himself. If a Kennedy child was treated thus, how could an orphan or institutionalized child of illiterate or impoverished parents hope to fare any better?

Book Review

View 1 comment. Aug 10, Donna rated it really liked it Shelves: history , science. Don't read this book if you are sensitive to cruelty and ignorance. It documents the experimentation on and medical treatment of people who had no rights or were unaware of their rights: prisoners, children in mental institutions, orphans, the poor and even trusting gullible educated adults.

Ironically this was encouraged at the same time as the Nuremberg trials were denouncing this type of medical experimentation.

Against their will : : the secret history of medical

This is not a book easily read. It documents the infants, children and adults who died from these experimental drug and electric treatments. It describes the horrible pain and side effects endured even after the treatments for which no pain killers were administered, children holding their hands over their eyes day and night, shrieking from the pain caused by substances administered to their eyes. It describes the long term damage to the brain, personality and memory as a result of lobotomies and electroshock therapy.

The book describes the twisted thinking of scientists who felt that "feeble-minded" and physically disabled people, called idiots, morons and gargoyles, etc. It describes the eugenics movement and how people were sterilized without their knowledge because they were told that the world did not want them producing more "like them". It describes the, well, the word "stupidity" comes to mind here, even though I am talking about scientists Sadly the book ends by describing how we must become more aware I do not think the situation has changed much.

Some hospitals still use experimental drugs without the knowledge or consent of their patients; some governments and drug manufacturers misrepresent the ingredients and side effects of vaccines, some university researchers are paid by a company to investigate whether their new product will negatively affect the current industry influencing the outcome of the "independent" study ; some military investigations of deaths during training still request the coroner to find that the military was not at fault I think the problems detailed in this book still exist in different forms.

Yes, we should be aware. We should be wise.


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We should be proactive. And we should not be trusting, believing that because we have discovered this about our past, it will not happen again.

This book is thorough, detailed and well researched. But it needs to be brought to the present. It is easier to write a book about historical events where the "enemies" are all dead than to write a book about present companies and politicians who are doing the same thing today. They can fight back. I hope there is a "sequel" to this book. Jul 28, Meredith rated it liked it.

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There's a lot of really interesting information in this book, and it's a history that should be more well known. The writing in general is good, but the organization is bad and the writing is sometimes repetitive. Each experiment is also covered quite briefly, so be prepared to look for other books if particular issues grab you. It is more like the shortest book it was possible to write on the general history of child experimentation in the 20th century.

In the later chapters many of the stories aren't actually experiments, just questionable practices doctors embraced with vigor regardless of how little research had been done. A frequent refrain is "Doctors in the US didn't pay any attention to the Nuremberg code at all. There are some other specific ideas that are over-repeated as well such as researchers specifically choosing devalued populations vs college prep schools.

The individual sections on vaccine research, radiation research, etc There's also a slight tendency to leave out dates when something prior to is being talked about it, or sometimes the date is mentioned towards the end of the story that's being related, which is always frustrating, but especially so in a book that jumps around so much and mentions so many different experiments. Again, lots of interesting information here, but it could have been presented so much more effectively and with a less misleading title. Jul 07, Jillisa rated it really liked it. This is a book that will make you think.

What is the definition of human? When does the principle of the "greater good" prevail and who defines the term? What price are we willing to pay for the advancement of modern science and technology? The authors did an excellent job in this book exploring the motivations that drove researchers to use the methods they did and the bigger picture of a society that turned a blind eye.

The book is divided into logical chapters by the types of experiments done This is a book that will make you think. The book is divided into logical chapters by the types of experiments done and each chapter contains at least one personal story of a survivor. Not only were these children who were being used, many of them were children with mental disabilities and the experiments that were performed seem, in many cases, illogical. Of course if you feed someone infected feces they're going to get sick!

The information presented was eye opening to say the least, especially the epilogue where the authors revealed that the same type of medical experiments are still taking place In some areas I felt the book was repetitive, using the same doctors and stories over and over again. If the problem was really so widespread and from this book I believe it was then their should be more stories that could be used.

All of that is minor. However, the one thing that would have made this book really great would have been more details on the individuals it covers. What was the long terms effects on those who underwent the experiments?

How, specifically, was the course of each one's life changed? Have the researchers and doctors changed their minds and attempted to make restitution? Have any of them faced charges? Many individuals' stories were shared in this book but I can't say the book really helped me feel a connection to any of them that truly made my heart ache and my blood boil. Against Their Will opened my eyes and gave me facts to consider but a book with such subject material should be able to move one's heart and that was lacking.

I received this book from the publisher in a random drawing on Goodreads. My positive review was not a condition of receiving this book. Jun 12, Joan rated it liked it. Not exactly Cold War era. Not exactly constructed concisely in a coherent or unified way.

Allen M. Hornblum

That being said, good research, good documentation and gives a peek into some of the live's affected and effected by experimentation, government run medical programs and our history as people in the health field. My heart goes out to those lives in whom I have benefitted from vaccinations, medical breakthroughs and practices.

It is from their sacrifice of quality of life, or sacrifice of life without permis Not exactly Cold War era. It is from their sacrifice of quality of life, or sacrifice of life without permission or knowledge that we have gained perspective. Belatedly, they should be honored and respected and thanked.

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Jun 16, Mike Pollack rated it really liked it. Good book, well as good as a book could be about the use of vulnerable children in medical research could be.

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As someone who as worked in the research field non-interventional, observational I found it to be a very fascinating book that provides good history and context to the standards for research ethics we us today. Three disappointments though 1 as one reviewer said- the book was a bit repetitive or could have been organized a bit better, 2 by the title I was assuming it was focusing on Good book, well as good as a book could be about the use of vulnerable children in medical research could be.

Aug 04, Marian rated it really liked it Shelves: american-society , bodies , disability-illness , for-research , high-impact , midcentury-us , painful , recent-history , science-nature , social-history. High-impact in its catalog of dehumanizing medical research that exploited institutionalized, often disabled children for almost a century as far as documentation presented here , and with a valuable list of source notes.

Nevertheless, it's highly valuable for the content overall, as well as the list of source material.