Posted by: Witch Doctor | October 9, 2010

The “Goodness” that fuels Creep


What are you thinking about so deeply, My Black Cat?

You are thinking about Hilary Clinton.

Hilary Clinton?


You are thinking about her apology.

What apology?

The one she made last week……

“The United States issued an unusual apology Friday to Guatemala for an experiment conducted in the 1940s in which prisoners, mental patients and soldiers were deliberately infected with sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis and gonorrhea.

“The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical….. “

This information was highlighted as a consequence of research by Susan M Reverby.

I see this is upsetting you. You want me to reassure you that such a thing could never happen again in a civilised society?

I cannot reassure you of any such thing, My Black Cat.

There always needs to be great caution when “The Greater Good” takes precedence over the individual. This is particularly the case nowadays when there are limited resources in the face of great demographic change.

At the time of the Guatemala experiment the public health doctors probably saw very little harm in what they were doing. Indeed they probably saw it in terms of “The Greater Good.”

Here is an imaginary situation where doctors in western society might participate in an experiment.

Imagine, My Black Cat, you and I lived and worked in a country where capital punishment was legal. Then imagine if the concept of “patient choice” was extended to prisoners on death row.

“Prisoners Choice.”

Imagine half of society disapproved strongly of the death penalty but the other half did not. In order to compromise and keep the citizens happy, the governing body passed a law that would allow prisoners to choose between “The Death Penalty” or active participation in a certain number of medical experiments that might carry considerable risk, and would not be considered ethical in a “normal” population.

Let’s say they were to be given some kind of serious infectious disease or some form of cancer inducing agent for which there was no known cure but there was promising research.

The prisoners had details of the research fully explained to them including the possibility that they may die or be permanently maimed by the diseases.

Suppose half the prisoners in death row agreed to participate.




How do you suppose the medical establishment would react to that, My Black Cat?



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  1. I have to be careful what I say but not so very long ago when I was doing work for the government I was required to look at some research that had been carried out on prisoners. Unsurprisingly perhaps, the work came from the US. I remember now the shock I felt when I read the documents. It wasn’t that anything terrible had happened to the prisoners, it was that it was clear that in such circumstances consent could not really have assured and I knew that such work would not at that time anyway have been considered ethically acceptable in the UK. At the time it surprised me that in the US there were apparently no such qualms. Since what had been done to the prisoners had been fairly benign the main concern would have been the possibility of creep. But I just thought that things would improve and that they were just lagging behind us a little. Guantanamo and extraordinary rendition now suggest that what I was witnessing was indeed creep.

  2. I wonder if prisoners can ever give valid consent when the choice is the lesser of two evils. The threat of the “worst evil” would be equivalent to pressure being put on the prisoner to comply with the “lighter evil”

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