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  • Kirk Hartley

No One Raised a Hand to Object to Vietnam Era Experiments on US Soldiers – What Really is &#82

What is “consent?”  A sobering view on the topic is set out in a June 13, 2014 article by Jack Silverstein in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (paywall).  The article revolves around lawyers and physicians visiting Nuremberg and other places in Germany to understand how doctors and lawyers played roles in the atrocities of Hitler and World War II.  The experience, however, also reminded some of the participants of obscene manipulation of people in the US. Consider the following comments from Dr. J. Kevin Dorsey on “consent” to Vietnam era medical experiments performed in the US by the US Army:

“… the purpose of all the programs is the same: Teaching through experience.

For Pine, the most powerful lesson was how easily Adolf Hitler manipulated Germany’s legal system to create the circumstances needed to support state-sponsored murder.

“That’s what’s frightening. That some good people, some intelligent people in our society — lawyers, judges, doctors — could support such a hideous regime,” she said.

Dr. J. Kevin Dorsey, dean of SIU’s medical school, had the same realization.

“I think lawyers and doctors and the intellectual academy of Germany basically facilitated the Holocaust,” Dorsey said. “For me, the seminal question in the Holocaust is ‘How could they do this?’

“So who is ‘they’? ‘They’ wound up being lots and lots of the German people,” including, Dorsey pointed out, doctors and lawyers.

Dorsey’s thoughts about those professionals rationalizing amorality was a sobering and personal experience. In 1968, Dorsey was an Army doctor stationed at Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland, the Army’s chemical warfare headquarters.

“I had been drafted as a Ph.D. biochemist scientist,” he said, telling his story in staccato bursts. “1968. Vietnam War. It was after the Tet Offensive. Lots of people were drafted. I was not yet 26. Couldn’t avoid the draft. Well, what happened at Edgewood Arsenal?”

He described the medical experiments conducted by the U.S. government on “medical volunteers.”

“They were enlisted men, and the choice was simple,” he said. “Do you want to go to Edgewood Arsenal in Maryland and be there for six weeks and they’ll test some drugs on you? Or you can go to Vietnam now. It’s your choice.”

Many men chose Maryland. Dorsey and the other doctors stood idly by.

“I was an enlisted man, I was a scientist, I was 26 years old, but did I raise my hand (in protest)?” he asked. “I didn’t. Nobody did. Not one person.”

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About Kirk

Since becoming a lawyer in 1983, Kirk’s over 30 years of practice have focused on advising a wide range of corporations, associations, and individuals (as both plaintiffs and defendants) on both tort and commercial law issues centered around “mass torts.”

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