According to a number of unveiled documents, the U.S. government once exposed unsuspecting pregnant women to radiation as part of a years-long research project by Vanderbilt University.
A New York Times report states that the disturbing experiment took place between 1945 and 1947 – the Cold War era. Between 750 and 850 pregnant, lower-class women received trace amounts of radioactive iron in drinks from doctors they trusted.
In response to questions surrounding the practice at the time, lead researcher Dr. Paul Hahn claimed his intention was to analyze how babies absorbed iron during pregnancy.
In the decades since, however, several women reported experiencing symptoms consistent with radiation poisoning. In one case, unveiled in the Senate on this very day in 1994, the 11-year-old child of a woman unwittingly involved in the study developed cancer and died.
Interestingly enough, Vanderbilt told The Washington Post in 1993 that researchers behind the project had destroyed all related files. This was well before Vanderbilt was sued two decades later.
The damage control didn’t end there; also in the 90s, Vanderbilt University claimed their experiment had no ill effects on its unwitting subjects.
To the contrary, The Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments published a report on the topic insisting otherwise.
“A high number of malignancies among the exposed offspring (four cases in the exposed group: acute lymphatic leukemia, synovial sarcoma, lymphosarcoma, and primary liver carcinoma, which was discounted as a rare, familial form of cancer),” the report reads.
“No cases were found in a control group of similar size…This led the researchers to conclude that the data suggested a causal relationship between the prenatal exposure to Fe-59 and cancer. The investigators also concluded that Dr. Hahn’s estimate of fetal exposure was an underestimation of the fetal-absorbed dose.”
Most disturbing is the fact that the committee found at least 26 other similar experiments. All were carried out between 1944 and 1974.
All of this prompted then-President Bill Clinton to issue an apology on behalf of the U.S. government for its role in the experiments.