The illegal research tests in the 1940s and 1950s took place despite the fact that the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 had stipulated strict regulations on the 'ethical use of human subjects in medical research'. In 1948, the US strengthened regulation of human subject testing, after the Nuremberg trials that revealed Nazi experiments on concentration camp prisoners. "The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential," the code stated. The US government violated the law at the expense of the poor and minorities within and outside the country in order to conduct research experiments, a practice that Washington had condemned the Nazis at Nuremberg.
Despite the violation of its own laws, despite emba5rassing public apologies for using the poor within and outside the US as involuntary research medical subjects, the US and American corporations are continuing to use the poor as subjects in violation of US law. In the last ten years, US and EU drug companies have used India for medical research purposes, justifying the entire unethical, if not criminal process, as part of globalization.
As a country rapidly developing, but with a very large number of poor people, India has become the world's largest pretrie dish, according to Sean Philpott, managing editor of The American Journal of Bioethics. "Not only are research costs low, but there is a skilled work force to conduct the trials. Individuals who participate in Indian clinical trials usually won't be educated. Offering $100 may be undue enticement; they may not even realize that they are being coerced."
During my college teaching days, one of my undergraduates whose academic record was less than stellar boasted that he would become a doctor in a just a couple of years by going to India where he would have 'practical experience', instead of wasting time studying medical books in the US. At the time, I though that he was comforting his tortuous mind. However, he was correct after all. For decades, pharmaceutical research in India rests on actual patients and not on clinical testing.
Although the World Health Organization has been pressuring India to change its laws regarding medical research, things are very slow to change in everything from neighborhood abortion clinics mostly to abort female fetuses to drug testing. US and EU pharmaceutical companies love India because they can save millions - an estimated 60% in clinical trial costs that account for 40% in drug development - in expensive drug tests that the Food and Drug Administration requires. For the US and EU and for the multinational pharmaceutical corporations, poor people are as disposal as garbage and they are treated as such in medical experiments.
Unethical and/or illegal human experimentation has taken place in a number of area from surgical, radioactive, chemical, psychological, and others in the past one-and-a-half centuries by government and private sector as much in the US as in Europe. Legal, and professional guidelines have proved meaningless. The idea that the UN or WTO would do something meaningful is unrealistic to expect, even if it were enforceable. What can be done to stop using the poor as subjects for medical research experiments? The best solution is grass roots organizing and getting the word out to the world that unscrupulous corporations and governments are using the poor for medical experiments.