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Drug Trials on Prison Inmates

A highly influential federal panel compromised of medical advisers has recommended that our federal government loosen its regulations currently in place in which limit the testing of pharmaceutical drugs on prisoners.

    

          Federal officials have said that about ninety percent of all pharmaceutical products had been tested on prisoners up until the early 1970’s.  These medical trials were stopped in 1974 after it was revealed that abuse was taking place during these medical trials. For example, in one prison named Holmesburg, prisoners were paid hundreds of dollars each month to test products such as dandruff treatments and the prisoners were exposed to hallucinogenic, radioactive, and carcinogenic chemicals. Another example would be the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphillis in the Negro Male which began in the 1930’s and went on for forty years. During the Tuskegee Study, a few hundred men, most of who were illiterate, with syphilis were left untreated (even after a cure had been discovered) so that medical researchers could further study this disease (Urbina, 2006).

A highly influential federal panel compromised of medical advisers has recommended that our federal government loosen its regulations currently in place in which limit the testing of pharmaceutical drugs on prisoners. This was a medical practice that was stopped thirty years ago after it was revealed that the prisoners were being abused during these medical trials as I mentioned above. They have recommended some changes that beset the earlier programs from a few decades ago. Some of the changes they have recommended are: 1) that experiments with a greater risk should be permitted if they have the potential to benefit the prisoners; and 2) that all studies are subject to an independent review (Urbina, 2006). However, it seems that as a nation, we are divided on this subject.

PRO-CONTROLLED EXPERIMENTATION

            Amongst those who are in favor of controlled experimentation is Dr. Albert K. Kligman. Dr. Kligman believes that inmates should again be involved in medical trials and testing. The supporters of these controlled experimentations believe that there is a possibility of benefit to the population of prisons and also a potential for contributing to the greater good (Urbina, 2006).

            A Washington lawyer who helped found the National Prison Project, Alvin Bronstein, stated that he did not believe that changing the regulations posed any kind of risk to where there would be a return to the days of the Holmesburg prison. “With the help of external review boards that would include a prisoner advocate,” Mr. Bronstein said, “I do believe that the potential benefits of biomedical research outweigh the potential risks” (Urbina, 2006, para. 9). In addition, Ernest D. Prentice, a University of Nebraska genetics professor and chairman of a Health and Human Services Department committee said, “The current regulations are entirely outdated and restrictive, and prisoners are being arbitrarily excluded from research that can help them” (Urbina, 2006, para. 12).

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