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Human Experimentation: An Overview on Cold War Era Programs

T-NSIAD-94-266 Published: Sep 28, 1994. Publicly Released: Sep 28, 1994.
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GAO discussed federal experimentation on humans for national security purposes, focusing on: (1) the magnitude, scope, and potential effects of experiments on human subjects; (2) government assistance for those injured by the experiments; and (3) measures to ensure that informed consent is secured and volunteers are protected in government-sponsored experiments. GAO noted that: (1) precise information on the number of experiments conducted between 1940 and 1974 was not available, but hundreds of thousands of people were used as test subjects; (2) in some cases, basic safeguards to protect participants were not in place or were not followed; (3) although the experiments' effects on participants were often difficult to determine, some participants suffered immediate injury, died, or developed other adverse health effects years later; (4) experimental subjects often found it difficult to pursue claims because of the lack of documentation on their participation and the adverse effects of testing; (5) some agencies have made special efforts to help participants obtain the information they need to pursue claims, but additional efforts are needed; and (6) although the government has established procedures and policies to ensure the voluntary participation of test participants who are fully informed of experimental risks, there is no mechanism to ensure their implementation.

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