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Human medical experimentation upon captive, vulnerable subjects is not a relic of our American past. It is part of our present. The extensive history of medical experimentation on the disabled, the poor, the mentally ill, and the incarcerated has been little explored. Its continuance has been even less discussed, especially in the legal literature. The standard narrative of human medical experimentation ends abruptly in the 1970s, with the uncovering of the Tuskegee syphilis study. My research shows, however, that this narrative is incorrect and incomplete. The practice of experimenting on the captive and vulnerable persists. Our current approach to human medical experimentation disregards informed consent and privacy, allowing the pharmaceutical and medical industries to play an out-sized role in shaping clinical research. The confusing amalgam of laws, rules, and codes loosely governing such research almost entirely fails to regulate or prevent patient mistreatment and abuse. Acquiring a true understanding of our system of mass incarceration requires us to unearth the hidden contours of our current experiments on the poor, the disabled, and the confined, and calls for a wholesale revision of the flawed legal and medical regime overseeing human medical experimentation.


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6 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Criminal Law

    • Disability Law

    • Health Law and Policy

    • Juvenile Law

    • Law and Economics

  • Journal title
    • Boston College Law Review

  • Volume
    • 61

  • Issue
    • 1

  • Pagination
    • 1

  • Date submitted

    6 September 2022