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13 Horrifying Cases of Human Experimentation

These human experiment trials left thousands of victims in their wake.

horror human experimentation
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  • Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The horrors of human experimentation are among the most shameful and terrifying facts of our past. Human experiment trials have often taken advantage of the most disadvantaged patients. From the horrors of World War II to the infamous Tuskegee study, these are some of the most horrifying cases of human experimentation.

Bubonic Plague in the Philippines

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  • Dr. Richard Strong.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

After the United States took over the Philippines in 1902, army doctors allegedly decided to administer the bubonic plague virus to several Filipino patients. Besides this horrendous act, Dr. Richard P. Strong also infected 24 inmates with cholera, killing 13 of them. If this wasn’t enough damage, Army doctors also chose to withhold food from 29 prisoners in order to cause vitamin B1 deficiencies that cause a disease called Beriberi. 

The CIA's Whooping Cough

According to papers found by the Church of Scientology, after the CIA received bacteria from the U.S. Army’s Chemical and Biological Warfare Center, they did something terrible. The year was 1955, and they experimented by releasing a whooping cough bacteria into the air outside of Tampa Bay, Florida, killing 12 people. However, records of this human experimentation–or its goals–outside of the Church of Scientology’s allegations are hard to come by.

Skid Row Cancer Study

Many people choose to be experimented on due to vulnerability and and a lack of other options. This was the case in a New York City experiment in the 1950s. A medical researcher named Perry Hudson persuaded homeless people to participate in his experiments with the promise of food and shelter. The side effects of the experiments were never disclosed, but the American Journal of Health and the Bulletin of History of Medicine called it unethical due to the powerlessness of the subjects and the things that were done to them. 

Related: 10 Disturbing, Real-Life Tales from Psych Wards 

Dr. Hideyo Noguchi's Syphilis Study

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  • Dr. Hideyo Noguchi.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In 1911 and 1912, Dr. Hideyo Noguchi was testing people with syphilis for skin reactions. Unfortunately, he was also testing patients without the disease by injecting them with small amounts of syphilis without their knowledge. Many of these patients were already ill, and most of them were orphans or hospitalized children between the ages of two and 18. It become a public scandal, and Noguchi was later diagnosed with syphilis but refused treatment. Maybe he was worried about having a sneaky doctor. 

University of Rochester Radiation Experiments

There’s rarely a good reason to experiment on people, but a pretty bad reason includes this one: “The experiments were intended to show what type or amount of exposure would cause damage to normal people in a nuclear war.” Yikes. From 1945 to 1947, 11 patients chosen for their good health were injected with plutonium. Administered by doctors at the University of Rochester, five patients were given polonium and six were given uranium.

Related: 10 Evil Doctors That Will Make You Sick 

Holmesburg Prison Experiments

Drunk on power, Dr. Albert M. Kligman experimented on prisoners at Holmesburg Prison for 20 years before getting exposed. Kligman created Retin-A, a popular acne treatment. Before releasing it to the masses, Kligman applied it to hundreds of prisoners–with or without acne. He also injected 70 prisoners with a toxic chemical found in Agent Orange, dioxin. While this seems awful, his research was very public and he was only fully exposed when Allen M. Hornblum, a criminal justice official, released more evidence.  


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  • Dr. Donald Hebb (left) and Donald Ewen Cameron (right). 

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Discussed often in pop-culture, MK-ULTRA is one of the most famous government experiments in history. Carried out by the CIA in the 1950’s, the program was made to achieve total mind control. What could go wrong, right? MK-ULTRA subproject 68 was one of the most inhumane of all the experiments. After receiving a $10,000 grant to study sensory deprivation and human isolation in 1951, Dr. Donald Hebb began his experimentation. With Donald Ewen Cameron, the men wanted to reprogram the human brain. To “de-pattern” neutral pathways, they experimented with electro-shock therapy and made patients look at repetitive images for 16 hours a day, every day. They also dosed patients with LSD and put them in comas. All of this testing resulted in irreversible damage both physically and psychologically.

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Sonoma State Hospital Cerebral Palsy Trials

Thanks to a 60 Minutes investigation, a long-buried, unauthorized experiment was uncovered. From 1950 to 1960, institutionalized children at Sonoma State Hospital with cerebral palsy were experimented on by doctors who used unnecessary spinal taps and radiation on them. Tragically, these experiments were hidden for years, and over 1,400 children died due to the testing.  

Related: 10 Days in a Madhouse: Nellie Bly’s Living Nightmare 

Nazi Human Experimentation

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  • Josef Mengele.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

At multiple concentration camps, doctors experimented on Jewish and other prisoners in horrific manner. Almost 1,500 twins were experimented on by Josef Mengele. Mengele tried to sew twins together to create conjoined twins, attempted to dye their eyes, amputated limbs, infected them with diseases, and put the blood of one twin into their other. Only 200 of these twins are reported to have survived the experiments. Although Mengele’s experiments are perhaps the most notorious, there were many others conducting equally reprehensible experiments, from testing military weapons on prisoners to attempting unnecessary transplantations and exposing prisoners to fatal diseases to study their reactions.

Whole Body Radiation Trials

From 1960 to 1971, Dr. Eugene L. Saenger and his colleagues at the University of Cincinnati irradiated 88 women, men, and children to see the effects of radiation. Most of the patients were uneducated, poor, and African-American. Many of the patients died within a few hours of exposure, and those that survived were not given palliatives to prevent the side effects of radiation like nausea and vomiting.  

Related: 5 Must-Read Books About the Science of Death 

Edward Cohn's Cow's Blood Experiment

Why inject 64 prisoners with cow blood? We still aren’t totally sure, but that’s what a Harvard doctor decided to do in 1942. He was even backed by the U.S. Navy. The study did not reveal any substantial results, and “the rejection of the blood was catastrophic.” 

Tuskegee Syphilis Study

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  • A doctor draws blood from one of the Tuskegee test subjects.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In another injustice carried out on the vulnerable, the U.S. government took advantage of people in the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Conducted between 1937 and 1972, the United States Public Health Service authorized and then performed experiments under the guise of free medical care. For free medical care, meals, and burial service, a total of 600 African American men were injected with syphilis to treat their “bad blood”. Of course, none of the study participants were, at any point, offered penicillin, which had already been proven to cure the disease from which they all suffered. It’s one of the most unethical and infamous experiments of all time, and in 1997, former President Clinton issued a belated apology. By then, only seven of the original patients were alive to hear the apology.

Featured photo of Jewish twins kept alive to be used in Josef Mengele's medical experiments: Wikimedia Commons