August 2020 Edition. Volume XX

In 1953 the Nuremberg Code was created as a result of atrocities committed in the guise of “medical research” during the second world war. In 1994 Eileen Welsome, a reporter for the Albuquerque Tribune, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for her investigative reporting of a dark episode in American History relating to secret medical experiments.  Her subsequent book “The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments In The Cold War” published by the Dial Press in 1999 is a fascinating, as well as riveting, narrative regarding this American experience. During the 1940s a leading participant in the performing of potentially lethal medical research on unsuspecting military personnel and hospitalized patients was Army Colonel Stafford Warren, a Professor of Radiology at the University of Rochester (New York) School of Medicine and Dentistry and Chief of the Manhattan Project Medical Section.

Col. Warren is shown to the right in the photograph above as he boards the hospital ship USS Haven in 1946 en route to Operation Crossroads at Bikini Atoll. The historical revelations regarding human experimentation atrocities committed by enemy physicians during WWII have focused on Dr. Shiro Ishii (Japanese Unit 731), and Dr. Josef Mengele (Auschwitz Concentration Camp).  Less well known, but equally, depraved have been the activities of Dr. Fukujiro Ishiyama (Kyushu University Imperial Hospital), Dr. Sigmund Rasher (Dachau Concentration Camp) and Dr. Hiroshi Iwanami (Dublon Island, Truk).

Joseph Mengele

Joseph Mengele

Shiro Ishii

Shiro Ishii

The discovery that human experimentation had also been performed on unsuspecting hospital patients in the United States by American physicians during the war years, as well as recent times, has made it clear that some of these enemy physicians had American colleagues to share in their infamy in performing experimentation on captive human subjects.

Stafford Warren, in his capacities as a U.S. medical officer (radiologist) and medical faculty member at the University of Rochester appears to have had primary responsibility for the now infamous plutonium injections performed on innocent patients at Strong Memorial Hospital  (Teaching Hospital of the University of Rochester) in 1945 along with Colonel Hymer Friedell (also a M.D.).  A top secret and constantly guarded clandestine facility, the “Manhattan Annex” was constructed across the street from the University of Rochester Medical School.

This clandestine facility was connected by a tunnel to the medical school itself.  This building was destroyed after WWII , and its activities were actively kept hidden from the public until over a half-century later.  By 1977 only one survivor, Jeanne Connell remained, to tell the tale.  That same year Connell, and the heirs of the other human subjects, each received $400,000 from the U.S. government with an official apology (O’Neill et al., Betrayal of Trust, People Magazine, May 5, 1997).

The Strong Memorial Hospital and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry’s web site notes that in March 1943 President Valentine, of Strong Memorial Hospital, summoned Dr. Stafford Warren to a luncheon conference with Major General Leslie Groves and Colonel J. C. Marshall.  At this meeting it was decided that Dr. Warren would be responsible for the medical care and protection, against health hazards of all individuals who were to be working on the Manhattan Project for the development of the atomic bomb.

The need for knowledge regarding the effects of plutonium on humans was  information important to the needs of the United States during the 1940s.  This was, however, no justification to commit crimes against humanity in order to gain this knowledge as many individuals would have willingly volunteered for such studies if they has been provided with informed consent and responsible overview.

Standing as a dramatic and proud antithesis to the actions of Col. Stafford Warren was Major Walter Reed who established the United States Army Yellow Fever Commission, in Havana in 1900.  When Major Reed asked for volunteers to be bitten by mosquitoes laden with yellow fever full disclosure of risk, including possible death, was provided to those who volunteered.

Some of the first to step forward as volunteers to be bitten by infected mosquitoes were physicians Jesse Lazear and nurse Clara Maass who sadly did not survive from their self-inflicted yellow fever.  The sacrifice of these medical professionals was groundbreaking in the annals of self-sacrifice and in the establishing a moral compass for informed consent by ethical health professionals.

It needs to be noted that, in contradistinction to the yellow fever volunteers, none of the physicians involved in the plutonium experiments ever used themselves as test subjects.

One of the best moments of the Clinton administration were the actions of Secretary of the Department of Energy, Hazel O’Leary, and her official response upon learning about “America’s Nuclear Shame” (term coined by CNN’s Bernard Shaw). Her integrity and leadership did not allow the government to resort to the, not infrequently practiced, Washington “damage control” protocol .

Welsome’s delving into the persona of Stafford Warren has allowed us to see him as an “opportunist” having “no ethical qualms” whose “bravado masked a cunning intelligence.”  Her diligence and persistence resulted in the confrontation with the United States Department of Energy in 1993 as noted above.

In addition to wearing a cap as a Manhattan Project Officer Colonel Stafford Warren was, at the same time, also involved in the development of radiographic media at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.  He, and his associates Strain and Plati, developed the myelographic oil-ester Pantopaque® for which they received U.S. Patent 2,348,231 .  This was issued on May 9, 1944.

The Parisian Report chronicles the tale of this saga and the Burton Report documents the relationship
of Pantopaque® to the neuropathologic entity “adhesive arachnoiditis.”  In one of medicines great mysteries
Pantopaque®, which was never shown to be “safe“, was initially introduced for use in small amount (1-2cc) for locating spinal tumors.  It next (mysteriously) appeared on the world scene for high volume (12-15cc),routineuse, in diagnosing disc herniations.

A number of clinicians have published on the dangers of oil myelography.  In 1942 Van Wagenen (a neurosurgical colleague of Warrens, at the University of Rochester) identified Pantopaque® as causing chemical meningitis in his own patients where “space-displacing masses within the spinal canal were suspected.”  Despite this important information Pantopaque® was subsequently distributed to the United States military by Warren, under circumstances inconsistent with American Medical Association principles as well as Food and Drug Administration requirements.

In the 1940’s the myth was advanced that by removing all Pantopaque following myelography would avoid complications. This dictum led to multiple lumbar punctures being performed for the extraction process typically also then introducing blood products to the residual Pantopaque. The experimental studies performed by Jaeger in 1947 in dogs documented that the meningitic response produced by blood and Pantopaques mixed together was worse than that from Pantopaque alone.

Only minimal effort has ever been directed to documenting the numbers of military personnel who became disabled following oil myelography and subsequent spinal surgery during the period 1940-1985.  How many military veterans experienced a  Pantopaque®  myelogram during this period is simply not known but, there are clearly many thousands of veterans whose lives were destroyed by this experience.

Should the United States Veteran’s Administration and the Surgeon General’s office ever initiate a inquiry into these particular events it would, most certainly, open up another important chapter in American medical history.  Because we have not yet endeavored to learn from this particular past experience many unfortunate individuals in the present continue to suffer from similar problems and human experimentation on unsuspecting patients in the United States has continued unaccompanied by adequate disclosure.

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