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quinta-feira, 20 de outubro de 2011

The risks of Operation Whitecoat

12/19/2001 - Updated 10:50 PM ET
The risks of Operation Whitecoat
By Glenn O'Neal, USA TODAY

The thought of exposing people to Q fever or tularemia could raise a few eyebrows today, but Operation White coat met a rare ethical standard in its day, some ethicists say.

Operation Whitecoat tests were done under the cloud of the Cold War and at a time when people rarely scrutinized workings of the government. It was a time when the government conducted some dubious experiments, such as the infamous Tuskegee experiments in which scientists studied the progression of syphilis in untreated poor black men.

Col. Arthur Anderson, who signs off on all research conducted today at Fort Detrick, Md., the home of the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases, says the program was "a model for medical, ethical research for humans."

Whitecoat volunteers were given a consent form at the Texas medic school where they were first approached, Anderson says.

Once they were at Fort Detrick, the volunteers attended meetings with researchers for further details, and, although they were expected to participate in an experiment at some point during their tour, volunteers did have the option of not taking part in an experiment, he says.

"By the standards of the day, I think it was an ethical, acceptable way to get the information they were looking for," says Jonathan Moreno, director of the Center of Biomedical Ethics at the University of Virginia.

Moreno says the subject matter of Whitecoat has a lot to do with any queasiness over such experiments.
"I don't think it is a matter of exposing people to risks," Moreno says. "It leaves a bad taste in one's mouth when it involves a biological weapon."

He points out that what people objected to three months ago may be changing. For example, current trials to test the effectiveness of diluted smallpox vaccine may not have been considered before Sept. 11 because of the risks associated with taking a vaccine for a disease that was considered eradicated.

Paul Root Wolpe, senior fellow at the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, points out that Operation Whitecoat occurred when people were more trusting of the government and less critical of medical experimentation. Still, many people would have raised their voices against it had they known about it, he said.
"If it (Whitecoat) would have gotten out to the public, I doubt if many people would have thought it ethical," Wolpe says.


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