REMARKS BY THE US PRESIDENT IN ACCEPTANCE OF THE HUMAN RADIATION FINAL REPORT
Brief Extracts. See link for Full Text.
October 3, 1995
Old Executive Office Building
Let me begin with a simple thank you to everyone who participated in this extraordinary project and to everyone who supported them.
And to all those who represent the families who have been involved in these incidents, let me say to you, I hope you feel that your government has kept its commitment to the American people to tell the truth and to do the right thing. We discovered soon after I entered office that with the specter of an atomic war looming like Armageddon far nearer than it does today, the United States government actually did carry out on our citizens experiments involving radiation. That’s when I ordered the creation of this committee. Dr. Faden and the others did a superb job. They enlisted many of our nation’s most significant and important medical and scientific ethicists. They had to determine first whether experiments conducted or sponsored by our government between 1944 and 1974 met the ethical and scientific standards of that time and of our time. And then they had to see to it that our research today lives up to nothing less than our highest values and our most deeply-held beliefs.
From the beginning, it was obvious to me that this energetic committee was prepared to do its part. We declassified thousands of pages of documents. We gave committee members the keys to the government’s doors, file cabinets and safes. For the last year and a half, the only thing that stood between them and the truth were all the late nights and hard work they had to put in.
This report I received today is a monumental document in more ways than one. But it is a very, very important piece of America’s history, and it will shape America’s future in ways that will make us a more honorable, more successful and more ethical country.
What this committee learned I would like to review today with a little more detail than Dr. Faden said, because I think it must be engraved on our national memory. Thousands of government-sponsored experiments did take place at hospitals, universities, and military bases around our nation. The goal was to understand the effects of radiation exposure on the human body.
While most of the tests were ethical by any standards, some were unethical, not only by today’s standards, but by the standards of the time in which they were conducted. They failed both the test of our national values and the test of humanity.
In one experiment, scientists injected plutonium into 18 patients without their knowledge. In another, doctors exposed indigent cancer patients to excessive doses of radiation, a treatment from which it is virtually impossible that they could ever benefit.
The report also demonstrates that these and other experiments were carried out on precisely those citizens who count most on the government for its help the destitute and the gravely ill. But the dispossessed were not alone. Members of the military precisely those on whom we and our government count most they were also test subjects.
Informed consent means your doctor tells you the risk of the treatment you are about to undergo. (Editor: AND THAT THE PATIENT AGREES TO THE TREATMENT.) In too many cases, informed consent was withheld. Americans were kept in the dark about the effects of what was being done to them. The deception extended beyond the test subjects themselves to encompass their families and the American people as a whole, for these experiments were kept secret. And they were shrouded not for a compelling reason of national security, but for the simple fear of embarrassment, and that was wrong.
Those who led the government when these decisions were made are no longer here to take responsibility for what they did. They are not here to apologize to the survivors, the family members or the communities who’s lives were darkened by the shadow of the atom and these choices.
So today, on behalf of another generation of American leaders and another generation of American citizens, the United States of America offers a sincere apology to those of our citizens who were subjected to these experiments, to their families, and to their communities.
When the government does wrong, we have a moral responsibility to admit it. The duty we owe to one another to tell the truth and to protect our fellow citizens from excesses like these is one we can never walk away from. Our government failed in that duty, and it offers an apology to the survivors and their families and to all the American people who must who must be able to rely upon the Untied States to keep its word, to tell the truth, and to do the right thing.
We know there are moments when words alone are not enough. That’s why I am instructing my Cabinet to use and build on these recommendations, to devise promptly a system of relief, including compensation, that meets the standards of justice and conscience.
When called for, we will work with Congress to serve the best needs of those who were harmed. Make no mistake, as the committee report says, there are circumstances where compensation is appropriate as a matter of ethics and principle. I am committed to seeing to it that the United States of America lives up to its responsibility.
Our greatness is measured not only in how we so frequently do right, but also how we act when we know we’ve done the wrong thing; how we confront our mistakes, make our apologies, and take action.
That’s why this morning, I signed an executive order instructing every arm and agency of our government that conducts, supports, or regulates research involving human beings to review immediately their procedures, in light of the recommendations of this report, and the best knowledge and standards available today, and to report back to me by Christmas.
I have also created a Bioethics Advisory Commission to supervise the process, to watch over all such research, and to see to it that never again do we stray from the basic values of protecting our people and being straight with them.
The report I received today will not be left on a shelf to gather dust. Every one of its pages offers a lesson, and every lesson will be learned from these good people who put a year and a half of their lives into the effort to set America straight.
Medical and scientific progress depends upon learning about people’s responses to new medicines, to new cutting- edge treatments. Without this kind of research, our children would still be dying from polio and other killers. Without responsible radiation research, we wouldn’t be making the progress we are in the war on cancer. We have to continue to research, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. end quote.
THE EXECUTIVE ORDER SIGNED MANDATING OPENNESS APPLIES TO THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.
Since 1999 the US Department of Energy has funded radiation research in many countries around the world, including Australia. In fact the awarding of a radiation research contract to the Flinders University of South Australia was one of the first to receive funding under the US DOE low dose research program.
US Presidential Executive Order 12891 of 1994 is available for download here: