Human experimentation

Around the time Nazi doctor Josef Mengele was conducting his brutal medical experiments on human beings, some American scientists were doing pretty much the same thing:

U.S. government researchers who purposely infected unwitting subjects with sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala in the 1940s had obtained consent a few years earlier before conducting similar experiments in Indiana, investigators reported Monday. . . .

At least 5,500 prisoners, mental patients, soldiers and children were drafted into the experiments, including at least 1,300 who were exposed to the sexually transmitted diseases syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid, the commission reported. At least 83 subjects died, although the commission could not determine how many of the deaths were directly caused by the experiments, they said. . . .

In one case described during Monday’s two-hour hearing, a woman who was infected with syphilis was clearly dying from the disease. Instead of treating her, the researchers poured gonorrhea-infected pus into her eyes and other orifices and infected her again with syphilis. She died six months later.

The ultimate goal of the Guatemalan research was to determine whether taking penicillin after sex would protect against syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid. The question was a medical priority at the time, especially in the military. The Guatemalan experiments, carried out between 1946 and 1948, aimed to find a reliable way of infecting subjects for future studies.

The research included infecting prisoners by bringing them prostitutes who were either already carrying the diseases or were purposely infected by the researchers. Doctors also poured bacteria onto wounds they had opened with needles on prisoners’ penises, faces and arms. In some cases, infectious material was injected into their spines, the commission reported.

The researchers conducted similar experiments on soldiers in an army barracks and on men and women in the National Mental Health Hospital. The researchers took blood samples from children at the National Orphanage, although they did not purposely infect them.

In the studies conducted in Indiana, researchers exposed 241 inmates in Terre Haute to gonorrhea in 1943 and 1944. But there, the researchers explained the experiments in advance in detail and experimented only on the prisoners who volunteered. In contrast, many of the same researchers who began experimenting on Guatemalans a few years later actively hid what they were doing and never tried to obtain permission, the commission found. . . .

Susan M. Reverby, a historian at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, discovered the Guatemalan experiments while doing research for a book on the infamous Tuskegee studies in Alabama. Reverby found papers from John C. Cutler, a doctor with the federal government’s Public Health Service. Cutler had participated in the Tuskegee experiment, in which hundreds of African American men with late-stage syphilis were left untreated to study the disease between 1932 and 1972. Cutler died in 2003.

via U.S. scientists knew 1940s Guatemalan STD studies were unethical, panel finds – The Washington Post.

Mass murder, while remaining “decent”

Guy Walters discusses the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Brevik and argues that he is not necessarily insane at all, that certain convictions can make it quite logical to commit evil actions.  In doing so, he quotes from a speech by Heinrich Himmler, who makes the case that one can exterminate Jews, lining up a thousand corpses, while still being a “decent person.”  He links to the entire speech, which is also available as an audio file as well as a transcript in the original German.  It’s short, so I’ll just quote the whole thing.   Himmler was speaking to a group of SS officers on October 4, 1943, in the city of Posen.  It’s just a chilling combination of evil and self-righteousness:

 [0:00] What we accomplish in our armaments factories … even though it will only be at the end of the war when we can first assess it — prove it … will be a remarkable and noteworthy accomplishment. [pause]

[0:20]I want to also mention a very difficult subject … before you, with complete candor. It should be discussed amongst us, yet nevertheless, we will never speak about it in public. Just as we did not hesitate on June 30 to carry out our duty as ordered, and stand comrades who had failed against the wall and shoot them — about which we have never spoken, and never will speak. That was, thank God, a kind of tact natural to us, a foregone conclusion of that tact, that we have never conversed about it amongst ourselves, never spoken about it, everyone … shuddered, and everyone was clear that the next time, he would do the same thing again, if it were commanded and necessary.

[1:27] I am talking about the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish people[1]. It is one of those things that is easily said. [quickly] “The Jewish people is being exterminated[2],” every Party member will tell you, “perfectly clear, it’s part of our plans, we’re eliminating the Jews, exterminating[2] them, a small matter”. [less quickly] And then along they all come, all the 80 million upright Germans, and each one has his decent Jew. [mockingly] They say: all the others are swine, but here is a first-class Jew. [a few people laugh] And … [audience cough] [carefully]… none of them has seen it, has endured it. Most of you will know what it means when 100 bodies lie together, when 500 are there or when there are 1000. And … to have seen this through and — with the exception of human weakness — to have remained decent, has made us hard and is a page of glory never mentioned and never to be mentioned. Because we know how difficult things would be, if today in every city during the bomb attacks, the burdens of war and the privations, we still had Jews as secret saboteurs, agitators and instigators. We would probably be at the same stage as 16/17, if the Jews still resided in the body of the German people.

[3:23] We have taken away the riches that they had, and … I have given a strict order, which Obergruppenführer Pohl[3] has carried out, we have delivered these riches [carefully] to the Reich, to the State. We have taken nothing from them for ourselves. A few, who have offended against this, will be judged[4] in accordance with an order, [loudly] that I gave at the beginning: he who takes even one Mark of this is a dead man. [less loudly] A number of SS men have offended against this order. They are very few, and they will be dead men [yells] WITHOUT MERCY! We have the moral right, we had the duty to our people to do it, to kill[5] this people who would kill[5] us. We however do not have the right to enrich ourselves with even one fur, with one Mark, with one cigarette, with one watch, with anything. That we do not have. Because we don’t want, at the end of all this, to get sick and die from the same bacillus that we have exterminated[2]. I will never see it happen that even one … bit of putrefaction comes in contact with us, or takes root in us. On the contrary, where it might try to take root, we will burn it out together. But altogether we can say: [slowly, carefully] We have carried out this most difficult task for the love of our people. And we have suffered no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character.

via Himmler’s 10/04/43 Posen Speech, “Extermination,” English.

A big tip of the hat to D. E. Hinkle for showing this to me.

Anonymity and temptation

The young rioters in England wear hoods and masks to hide their identities.  British authorities trying to tamp things down are pondering allowing police to require people to show their faces.

Anonymity is indeed tied to bad behavior.   Shame is one of those first-use of the law phenomena that helps keep our sinful natures from breaking out.  But when no one knows who we are, our inhibitions are released.  We certainly see this in the internet, when people in blog wars and email flames can become much more vicious than they would be in actual person-to-person contact,where the online bomb thrower is often quite a nice guy.

On the other hand, anonymity has its positive uses too, protecting legitimate privacy and shielding the individual from negative social pressures.

Is there a way to balance all of this?

Britain weighs personal freedoms against need to keep order – The Washington Post.

Authority crisis

Rioters as young as nine are looting shops and burning buildings in cities across Great Britain.  Pundits, of course, are trying to answer the question, “Why?”  The left is predictably blaming social conditions–government cutbacks in particular–and the right is predictably putting responsibility on the individual “hooligans.”

I haven’t seen any interviews of the actual perpetrators (fill me in if you have), but I suspect there is not all that much “rage”–pictures I’ve seen are of the young folks laughing as they run off with vodka and electronic appliances–and minimalistic responses on the order of “whatever” to journalists as to all adults.

My theory is this:  Western nations in general are suffering from a crisis in authority.  Specifically, young people today tend not to perceive the validity of ANY authority over them.  Not their parents.  Also not the police, their teachers, their pastors.  Nor the law or a moral code.  And certainly not their governments.

I would say too that we conservatives, while being strong on the authority of the family, may be contributing to the erosion of authority, especially when it comes to the contempt we tend to express for  government authority of every kind.

Not only the person who holds the office–always subject to political opposition–but the office itself seems to be denigrated.  We oppose not just our local Congressmen but “politicians” and “Congress” in general.  That’s different from how I remember it in the good old days of Goldwater and Reagan conservatism, which tended to be very patriotic, “law and order,” “my country right or wrong,” even to a fault.  I don’t deny that our office holders contributed to this new cynicism towards government.  But I’m saying that the social contract needs a general respect for authority, including the authority of the state–a notion that is explicitly Biblical–otherwise, civilization will come apart, as we are seeing in England.


UK RIOTS 2011: Manchester and Midlands burn but London is ‘under control’ | Mail Online.


by Jimmy Veith

For many, the word “compromise” has negative connotations.  People who “compromise” are viewed as people who lack moral courage to live up to high ethical standards.  We admire most those individuals who stand up against the system and do the right thing regardless of what others think.  When “Mr. Smith” went toWashington, his filibuster in the Senate was not obstructionism.  It was a heroic act.      John Wayne never compromised.   Our aversion to compromise, is probably a reflection of our individualism, which is a dominate personality trait of Americans.

There are cultures, primarily in the East, that seem to place a greater emphasis on getting along with others.  The middle way or the “golden mean” is a dominant theme in their religions and philosophies, which place a greater emphasis on living in harmony with others.   We are more defined by our Judeo-Christian heritage which places a greater emphasis on absolute truths.

The Bible is full of warning and admonitions against compromise.  Yet, there are passages in the Bible that describe circumstances in which compromise is considered to be a good thing.  Consider Acts 15, which describes what is know as the Jerusalem conference, where Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter and the other Apostles to discus whether or not Gentiles who converted to Christianity had to become Jews first, and thus be circumcised according to the Law of Moses.  The view of Paul and Barnabas prevailed and the conference concluded that converts did not have to be circumcised.  (Yea!)  But even then, the Gentiles were instructed to comply with Jewish dietary laws.  (See Acts15: 20)   Was this an example of a compromise?    Are there other or better examples in the Bible where compromise is considered to be a good thing?

The United States Constitution is full of compromises.  The greatest conflict among the delegates to the Constitutional Convention was between the big states and the little states.  The big states wanted proportional representation based on population.  The little states wanted equal representation so they would not be dominated by the big states.  This conflict threatened to tear the convention apart, until they decided on the so-called “Connecticut Compromise” which gave proportional representation to the House of Representatives and equal representation in the Senate.

Today, we are engaged in a national debate over what should be done to address our national debt crises.  The far right refuses to raise taxes.  The far left refuses to reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits.   Isn’t this a situation where a compromise which does some of both, is the moral and ethical thing to do?

What are the moral and ethical dimensions of compromise?   Isn’t the attitude of “My way or the Highway!” repugnant in a Democracy?     Is it possible that in some circumstances, our willingness to compromise is an expression of Christian humility?

Bishop tells gay priests they have to get married

Now that New York state has legalized gay marriage, the Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano, Bishop of Long Island in the Episcopalian church, is requiring homosexual priests to either get married or stop living together out of wedlock.  From his official pronouncement:

For the gay and lesbian clergy of this Diocese who are living in domestic partnerships or civil unions, I hereby grant a grace period of nine months from the effective date of the New York State Law permitting same-gender marriages for those relationships to be regularized either by the exchange of vows in marriage or the living apart of said couples.  I deem it to be honest and fair, and I do so direct and require, now that it is legal, that only married couples may live together, either in rectories or elsewhere as a clergy couple living in the midst of our faith community.

via Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.

I know this sudden concern for sexual morality is being derided by many conservatives.  But it will be telling to see if homosexuals who now have the right to get married will now take marriage seriously by opposing extra-marital sex.