Against Their Will: The Secret History of Medical Experimentation on Children in Cold War America

Allen M. Hornblum, Judith L. Newman, and Gregory J. Dober. Palgrave Macmillan, $27 ISBN 978-0-230-34171-5


In this horrifying and painstakingly documented history, Hornblum (Acres of Skin), Penn State associate professor Newman, and medical writer Dober examine the stories of victims of poorly regulated medical experimentation in America in the 1950s and ‘60s to illustrate the chilling legacy of negative eugenics—the sickening imperative to prevent the survival and reproduction of the least fit—and the push by the 20th-century medical establishment to find cures and treatments by using children as human guinea pigs. Thousands of institutionalized children—“cheaper than lab animals and less problematic to deal with than adults”—became unwitting subjects of scientific investigation, and their stories are haunting: in order to better understand hepatitis, for example, scientists fed feces laced with the virus to mentally retarded “volunteers.” The resulting medical breakthroughs and vaccines are now deemed indispensable, but their price was far too high. Ted Chabasinski, snatched from a foster home and dumped in Bellevue Hospital for shock treatments at the age of six wrote years later: “The little boy who had been taken there to be tortured didn’t exist anymore. All that was left of him was a few scraps of memory and a broken spirit...” At least now, their voices are heard. Agent: Jill Marsal, Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (June)