In last Thursday’s class, LeBreque brought to our attention many unethical research with groups of people considered to be "less important” by the researchers conducting the experiments. Although we have heard countless times about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, Nuremberg Trials, Willowbrook Hepatitis Studies, Jenner’s vaccinations, among many others, we still must be reminded about these cases, which in turn remind us about the importance of seeing each life as equal when conducting research and the repercussions to minority groups if bioethics principles were not implemented. Even though we hear most about the cases stated above, it is clear these are not the only cases of unethical research and it is only normal that my mind trails off to things done to the people in my country. Listening to these cases made me remember some of the many unethical studies done in Puerto Rico by researchers who considered us to be an expendable population or in some cases, a population worthy of eradication.
One of the most shocking cases is that of Dr. Cornelius Rhoads, who in 1931 deliberately infected Puerto Rican citizens with cancer cells, killing 13 of the patients. Dr. Rhoads once said in a written document: “The Porto Ricans are the dirtiest, laziest, most degenerate and thievish race of men ever to inhabit this sphere… I have done my best to further the process of extermination by killing off eight and transplanting cancer into several more… All physicians take delight in the abuse and torture of the unfortunate subjects.” He then went on to be in charge of chemical warfare projects and form part of the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
In the early 1950s, Puerto Rican women were used for experimentation in the making of the first birth control pill invented by Dr. Gregory Goodwin Pincus. Since laws in the U.S. did not permit full-scale experimentation, in 1955 Dr. Pincus and his colleague, Dr. John Rock, decided Puerto Rico was a perfect place to test out their pill due to the lack of anti-birth control laws. The trials quickly moved throughout the poor sectors in the island. The experiment was based on poor and working class women; these women were not told the pill was experimental and were not told the negative effects the pill could have on them. Three deaths occurred among patients who were taking the birth control pill. However, these deaths were not reported to be linked to the trials, despite strong circumstantial evidence that the pill was causing these unexpected deaths. It is believed it was also used as a form of population control to contain the poor sector.
Even though I have only gone into detail about two unethical experiments done in Puerto Rico, there have been many more, as would be the use of imprisoned Puerto Ricans as subjects to radiation experiments, sterilization policies, and the testing of the agent orange before its use in the Vietnam War. Even though some of the studies done to Puerto Ricans and other communities yielded important results, the use of subjects without their consent or their full understanding of the studies is unethical and no one has the right to grant more value to one life over another.