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President Bill Clinton accepts report on human radiation experiments
from committee chair Faden, via C-Span


On January 15, 1994, President Clinton appointed the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. The President created the Committee to investigate reports of possibly unethical experiments funded by the government decades ago.

The members of the Advisory Committee were fourteen private citizens from around the country: a representative of the general public and thirteen experts in bioethics, radiation oncology and biology, nuclear medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics, public health, history of science and medicine, and law.

President Clinton asked them to deliver their recommendations to a Cabinet-level group, the Human Radiation Interagency Working Group, whose members were the Secretaries of Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs; the Attorney General; the Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the Director of Central Intelligence; and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Some of the experiments the Committee was asked to investigate, and particularly a series that included the injection of plutonium into unsuspecting hospital patients, were of special concern to Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary. Her department had its origins in the federal agencies that had sponsored the plutonium experiments. These agencies were responsible for the development of nuclear weapons and during the Cold War their activities had been shrouded in secrecy. But now the Cold War was over.

The controversy surrounding the plutonium experiments and others like them brought basic questions to the fore: How many experiments were conducted or sponsored by the government, and why? How many were secret? Was anyone harmed? What was disclosed to those subjected to risk, and what opportunity did they have for consent? By what rules should the past be judged? What remedies were due those who were wronged or harmed by the government in the past? How well do federal rules that today govern human experimentation work? What lessons can be learned for application to the future? Their Final Report (linked below) provides the details of the Committee’s answers to these questions. An Executive Summary presents an overview of the work done by the Committee, their findings and recommendations, and the contents of the Final Report.

Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments – Final Report

Publication Information

Letter from Ruth R. Faden, Chair of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments

Advisory Committee Members and Staff


Documentary Note


Introduction – The Atomic Century

Part I – Ethics of Human Subjects Research: A Historical Perspective


1.   Government Standards for Human Experiments: The 1940s and 1950s
2.   Postwar Professional Standards and Practices for Human Experiments
3.   Government Standards for Human Experiments: The 1960s and 1970s
4.   Ethics Standards in Retrospect

Part II – Case Studies


5.   Experiments with Plutonium, Uranium, and Polonium
6.   The AEC Program of Radioisotope Distribution
7.   Nontherapeutic Research on Children
8.   Total-Body Irradiation: Problems When Research and Treatment Are Intertwined
9.   Prisoners: A Captive Research Population
10.   Atomic Veterans: Human Experimentation in Connection with Bomb Tests
11.   Intentional Releases: Lifting the Veil of Secrecy
12.   Observational Data Gathering
13.   Secrecy, Human Radiation Experiments, and Intentional Releases

Part III – Contemporary Projects


14.   Current Federal Policies Governing Human Subjects Research
15.   Research Proposal Review Project
16.   Subject Interview Study

Discussion of Part III

Part IV – Coming to Terms with the Past, Looking Ahead to the Future


17.   Findings
18.   Recommendations

Statement By Committee Member Jay Katz

Official Documents

Executive Order


Acronyms and Abbreviations
Selected Bibliography
Public Comment Participants
A Citizen’s Guide to the Nation’s Archives: Where the Records Are and How to Find Them