Historical perspectives and their significant impact on the development of ethical standards governing research using human participants

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Experiments involving battlefield medicine included treatment of gunshot wounds, burns, traumatic amputations and chemical and biological agent exposures. In these experiments, the wound was first inflicted upon the victim (by gunshot, stabbing, amputation or other traumatic method) and then treated using various techniques. For example, in a study of sulfanilamide at the Ravensbrueck camp, Polish women were shot and slashed on the legs. The resulting wounds were stuffed with glass, dirt and various bacteria cultures, and sewn shut. The infected wounds were then treated with experimental anti-infective agents. In another experiment, a mixture of phosphorus and rubber was applied to the skin of victims and ignited. After burning for up to two minutes, the fire was extinguished and the resultant burns treated with various chemicals and ointments. Another series of experiments involved amputation of upper and lower limbs, and attempted treatment with transplanted bones, muscle and nerves. Neither the victim nor the tissue ‘donor’ did well in these studies; about half of the amputation victims died, the rest were maimed for life.

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