See Jim, It doesn’t hurt — history of product testing on humans

See Jim, It doesn’t hurt the caption under a photo in a 1970s small town newspaper said.

It was an image of a school teacher having a patch placed on her upper arm — in the same place where a polio vaccine would be administered. But what really caught my eye  — She was participating in a school fund raiser.

The caption went on to say,

Upon completion of the testing program, each person is expected to earn $19.50 for the band parents to be used on uniforms, etc. … P&G wouldn’t disclose what they were testing other than it had something to do with products.

I mean what marketer thought, here’s a good idea — let’s test our product on an unsuspecting public, garner some positive press and help pay for some band equipment. I know it was the early 1970s and everyone was coming out of the decade of free love and hallucinogens — but really, unnamed product testing on humans?

Turns out testing on people was business as usual. Although some participants didn’t a have a say in it. NBC News reported,

The late 1940s and 1950s saw huge growth in the U.S. pharmaceutical and health care industries, accompanied by a boom in prisoner experiments funded by both the government and corporations. By the 1960s, at least half the states allowed prisoners to be used as medical guinea pigs.

But, after a 1973 congressional hearing, that too became a thing of the past, but at least the pharmaceutical industry had a good reason for using inmates.

They were cheaper than chimpanzees.

Yes, industry officials admitted that in the hearings.

However, American ingenuity could not be stifled with a little thing like legalities  — or ethics for that matter — so the industry persevered.

The found children — not real children like American children — but children in other countries.

In their defense, it’s hard to find cheaper test subjects than children in impoverished areas of the world. Besides, the tests are more conclusive since companies are not hassled with inconvenient regulations — and often the subjects are not on any other form of medication (which could, of course, confuse or contaminate test results).

As late as 1996, one U.S. pharmaceutical company was using Nigerian children as guinea pigs. The company faced legal issues after 11 children died.

Pfizer was sued after 11 children died in a clinical trial when the northern state of Kano was hit by Africa’s worst ever meningitis epidemic in 1996. A hundred children were given an experimental oral antibiotic called Trovan, while a further hundred received ceftriaxone, the “gold-standard” treatment of modern medicine.

Five children died on Trovan and six on ceftriaxone.

In addition to the lawsuits filed by family members, the company paid the Kano state government $75 million despite accepting no blame in the children’s death. The company argued meningitis and not the antibiotic led to the childrens’ death.

In its 2011 annual review to the shareholders, Pfizer noted it had executed clinical trials in more than 60 countries.

Categories: American History

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