One of MIMEH's primary goals is to encourage a broad audience to consider the implications of Nazi medicine for current issues in society, not just from an academic perspective, but from a practical viewpoint. MIMEH often receives inquiries from people who are interested in the topic of medicine, ethics and the Holocaust and would like to contribute to our organization. We have decided to introduce a new feature on our blog where readers can join the conversation by submitting relevant articles for publication.
Our first guest blogger is Marie Miguel. Ms. Miguel is an avid researcher who writes about a variety of topics, including: healthcare, social media marketing, and business. She has a college degree in Communication with a Specialization in Integrated Marketing Communication. Ms. Miguel's work has been featured as part of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. We would like to welcome Ms. Miguel and thank her for her contribution to MIMEH's blog.
Ethics in Psychological Research
The medical profession needs to conduct frequent, ongoing and large-scale research on real human beings to ensure that new treatments are both safe and effective. This much is a given, but those volunteering for such trials do have the right to assume that they're not delivering themselves into the hands of some proto-Mengele. If nothing else, violations of research ethics make it that much less likely that volunteers will be found in future.
Inhumane and quite abhorrent experiments on living humans are most often associated with the Third Reich and Japan during the Second World War. Today, we might feel like congratulating ourselves on how modern liberal democracies would “obviously” not allow such things to happen, but this simply flies in the face of the facts. Not that long ago, 200 African Americans were deliberately infected with syphilis and denied treatment (obviously without their informed consent) and a researcher working at the Jewish Chronic Disease Hospital in New York injected live cancer cells into dozens of healthy prisoners and elderly patients. He was never prosecuted for this and in fact, continued to enjoy a successful career.
Anyone who thinks that mental well-being is less important than physical health probably doesn't value their mind that highly. While most practicing psychologists entered the profession to serve others and take professional ethics seriously, some researchers have crossed any line you care to draw.
Several psychological experiments, including those involving the deliberate traumatization of children, seemed to have no real purpose beyond proving an abstract hypothesis. Other examples include the notorious Stanford prison experiment, trying to “cure” homosexuality by administering electric shocks, and placing monkeys in solitary confinement for up to a year just to see what would happen.
The Politics of Warped Psychological Experiments
The purpose of such research is often not to find avenues toward healing, but new mechanisms of control, manipulation, and compulsion. The advertising industry specifically falls into this category, as do political "machines" worldwide. Something similar can be said about the military, which makes no bones about indoctrinating their recruits, although the ethical implications are a little more muddled in this special case.
For people who are better at taking orders than thinking for themselves, the concept of “national security” (or: we do this because we can) justifies some sins. Alternatively, a narrative is constructed in which whoever holds the power is automatically regarded as righteous, while those they persecute become unworthy of decent treatment. Notably, half a dozen psychologists helped the torturers of Guantanamo Bay craft their “enhanced interrogation” techniques, only barely staying out of Nuremberg territory. They cannot even claim necessity as a defense: these practices yielded absolutely no useful information regarding terrorism.
The worst example of perverting psychology to gain a political advantage, in the United States at least, must be the famous MKULTRA campaigns conducted by the CIA. Lasting two decades and conducted without informed (or, often enough, any) consent, its focus was on mind control, drugs, and psychological torture. One of the subjects was a young Ted Kaczynski – later known as the Unabomber. Although a causal relationship between these two data is impossible to prove, it's trivial to construct a prima facie case.
When ethics are ignored in psychological experiments, the subjects may well suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives. Worse perhaps is the damage this does to the profession's reputation at a time when record numbers of people require treatment for mental health issues.