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Cheap and Available: The American Medical and Pharmaceutical Community’s Love Affair with Prison Inmates

When Nov 06, 2008
from 3:00 PM to 4:30 PM
Where Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library
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The Department of Health and Human Services is currently weighing the prospect of re-opening America’s prison doors to researchers. A number of nationally recognized bioethicists as well as a recent Institute of Medicine report have recommended that with proper precautionary measures, inmates can once again be used as subjects for medical research. In opposition is a cross-section of prison reform advocates and others who understand the unique nature of prisons who believe that prisoners should not be considered raw material for experimentation and that the first principle of the Nuremberg Code—which was crafted by American jurists—specifically precludes the use of incarcerated populations. 

America has a long tradition of using vulnerable and institutionalized populations as subjects for experimentation. The medical community in postwar America repeatedly used the disabled, orphans, pregnant women, hospital patients, and black sharecroppers as test subjects in what is now referred to as the Golden Age of Medical Research. Prison inmates, however, were the guinea pigs of choice during this period. Used in everything from innocuous cosmetic studies testing shampoos and toothpaste to dangerous experiments incorporating radioactive isotopes and dioxin, prison inmates were the backbone of American research from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Yusef Anthony was one of thousands of Philadelphia inmates who were incorporated into a wide array of medical research. Uneducated, unsophisticated, and desperate for any way to earn a few dollars, inmates like Anthony were willing to give up a piece of their skin in the belief that doctors had their best interest in mind and that the experiments were harmless. Unfortunately, Anthony, like many of these imprisoned test subjects, suffered serious injuries that would impact his health for the rest of his life. 

Allen M. Hornblum

Allen HornblumTemple University, Author

One of the few Philadelphia authors to have his books garner front page coverage in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer, Allen Hornblum’s research has also been featured on Good Morning America, CBS Evening News, CNN, BBC, and most newspapers around the country. A Penn State grad with graduate degrees from Temple and Villanova Universities, Hornblum left Temple’s Ph.D. program in Political Science to take a position as a political organizer. In addition to his many years in the electoral and issue arenas, Hornblum also has a long and varied career in the criminal justice system including, Chief-of-staff of the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office, and a member of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission and the Board of Trustees of the Philadelphia Prison System. Hornblum’s books and research tackle controversial subjects that have never been addressed by scholars and journalists. His books Acres of Skin (Routledge, 1998), Confessions of a Second Story Man (Barricade Books, 2006), and Sentenced To Science (Penn State University Press, 2007) have broken new ground on subjects as varied as medical ethics and organized crime. He is currently writing the first in-depth biography of Atom Bomb spy, Harry Gold. He is a frequently requested to give public presentations on his work and has addressed such groups as the British Medical Association, the National Institutes of Health, Brown and Columbia Universities, and a number of medical schools.

Used on event page.Edward "Yusef" Anthony

Edward "Yusef" Anthony is a former inmate test subject who served time in the Philadelphia Prison System during the 1960s and 70s. While at Holmesburg Prison, he was used in a series of dangerous and unethical medical experiments that included skin studies and chemical warfare experiments for the U.S. Army. Mr. Anthony is the subject of the book, Sentenced To Science: One Black Man’s Story of Imprisonment in America.