Would you swallow poison for $1000?
November 28, 2000 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Would you swallow poison for $1000? 100 people did. (Actually only half, but none of them know who the controls are.)
posted by Steven Den Beste (13 comments total)
"A week after the experiment, 20 deaths were reported. No legal action is taken yet."
posted by tiaka at 11:19 AM on November 28, 2000

As a smoker, I pay large corporations for the privilege of ingesting their poisons. Sigh. Another blown opportunity.

Honestly, though, I work in clinical trials (cancer research, and no, the irony that I continue to smoke is not lost on me). Things like this give me the willies, personally--the point about this stuff potentially having thyroid applications sounds an awful lot like a dodge when it comes to this study's intent. On the other hand, the IRBs signed off on it, and the patients signed off on consent (presumably, anyway, that being the law). Ish. It's you own body, I guess . . .
posted by Skot at 11:30 AM on November 28, 2000

But the experiment at Loma Linda Medical Center, funded by Lockheed Martin, also has raised questions about whether scientists should allow people to ingest chemicals or pesticides to help researchers learn about the dangers of environmental contaminants.

Or perhaps they mispelled "whether governments should allow people to make their own decisions."

This is a topic that's very close to my heart, as regulars will remember: should people be legally constrained against giving some sort of consent in certain situations because the person desiring such consent is presumed to have undue influence over them?

posted by baylink at 11:41 AM on November 28, 2000

It could be argued that end-stage cancer patients participating in Phase I trials are feeling "undue influence" from the drug companies (not always) sponsoring them. The influence in this case being, "Say, this might well kill you because we're unaware of the toxicities, but then again, it might save your life."

Like I said, a lot of this stuff gives me the vapors, but when I get down to the nitty, I have a hard time telling people what they can and can't do with their own bodies, providing that informed consent is present.
posted by Skot at 11:53 AM on November 28, 2000

What I find odd is the argument in the article by one interviewee that the study has no medical benefit. If the study identifies the toxicity of a pollutant, that can then be applied in regulation to presumably save lives, isn't that a benefit?

And if the participants are informed and willing... why should the ethics of some frustrated nannies prevail over the ethics of the participants? It's not something I'm likely to do, but still...

posted by aurelian at 12:11 PM on November 28, 2000

Skot, while i know what you mean vis-a-vis consenting adults and yada yada yada, a thousand bucks is only a lot of money to people without a lot of money. And we all know that desperate people will do desperate things. Basically what we have here is a giant corporation recruiting human guinea pigs to ingest their poison for what is (to them) a pittance. If we let this sort of thing go on, they'll soon be setting up labs in ghetto's where human mice will always be cheap and easy to find. Not at all similar to drug trials, this one is pure evil.
posted by Niccola Six at 12:29 PM on November 28, 2000

*sniff* *sniff* *sniiiiff*...

What's that smell? Oh. Yeah.

Smells like 50 new Darwin Award winners to me. Only time will tell...
posted by gramcracker at 12:40 PM on November 28, 2000

Speaking of the Darwin Awards, I found this ap photo caption darkly uproarious.
posted by sudama at 2:43 PM on November 28, 2000

If we let this sort of thing go on, they'll soon be setting up labs in ghettoes where human mice will always be cheap and easy to find.

OK... so, what's the difference between signing up volunteers for potentially-lethal-but-useful-to-society medical experiments by dangling $1000 in front of them... and signing up volunteers for potentially-lethal-but-useful-to-society military service by dangling subsidized college (much greater than $1000) in front of them?

That's not meant to be incendiary, it just strikes me as a rough parallel.

posted by aurelian at 2:48 PM on November 28, 2000

Let alone, perhaps a solution to both would be to lessen the number of ghettoes, eh? :)
posted by aurelian at 2:50 PM on November 28, 2000

What it comes down to is that researchers will never know the true impact a drug/toxic substance has on a human body without administering it to willing human subjects. Monkeys/rats can only get you so far.

Every drug that goes on the market goes through these trials and in EVERY case people do get sick as one of the tests is to determine the level at which it becomes toxic. Essentially, they try increasingly higher doses until side effects start to manifest themselves.

This is the only way to ensure safety. The problem I have is that some of these places try to focus their recruitment efforts on some specific groups--like the homeless, for example. On the other hand, is the homeless guy better off without that $1000 (and free room and board) that could serve to turn his life around? Also, $1000 means more to some than to others, as someone mentioned above....
posted by Witold at 5:57 PM on November 28, 2000

I'm baffled by those scientists quoted in the article who say this is unethical. Some researchers just seem to view any potential harm to human subjects, even when said subjects give voluntary, informed consent, as being wrong, period. I personally think that's going too far.

It reminds me of people's reaction to the infamous Stanford prison experiment. Ever since then, researchers have erred so far on the side of caution that nearly all psychological experiments are now carried out solely with paper-and-pencil tests. There may be less danger to test subjects, but now we end up with crappy, pseudo-scientific studies which "prove" that videogames cause violent behavior, where "violent behavior" is defined as someone putting a checkmark next to "Do you feel more aggressive now?" on a form after they've played video games for a couple of hours.
posted by Potsy at 12:11 AM on November 29, 2000

Well, Potsy, as I implied above (but few seemed to get) thie topic here is exactly: when is consent informed?

This is akin to the problems encountered in talking about the elections. You're capable of infinite regression in deciding what point to argue, but in the end, everybody that's on the same side at the bottom of the tree is on the same side at the top, so climbing the tree was worthless.
posted by baylink at 7:28 AM on November 29, 2000

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