The Doctor Who Sterilized U.S. Prisoners To Prevent "Mutants"

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If someone told you that your experiment "had a little of the Buchenwald touch," would you keep going? One doctor did, and added a little forced sterilization justified with lies about "mutants." Learn about the experiment that involved irradiating prisoners' testicles.

Dr. Carl Heller was not the first doctor to unethically experiment on prisoners. In fact, he practiced in an era when prisoner experimentation in the U.S. was still considered acceptable, in spite of Nazis citing it as a defense in their trials at Nuremberg. Still, he conducted experiments that had a colleague comparing his techniques to experiments at Buchenwald. (It's worth stating, though, that the colleague still assisted him.)

Heller, an endocrinologist, conducted the experiments on behalf of the Atomic Energy Commission. The Commission and the doctor were curious as to what effect extreme radiation exposure had on the testes. Heller recruited prisoners from Oregon and Washington for the study, and exposed them to about 650 rads of radiation — 650 times what they'd get during a chest x-ray. The prisoners were promised a possible reduction in their sentence, which they did not receive. They were paid five dollars per radiation session, $25 per biopsy, and $100 upon completion of the treatment.

What they didn't know was that "completion," in Heller's mind, included sterilization. He told the prisoners he was sterilizing them to prevent them from "contaminating" the world with "radiation-induced mutants." When the Atomic Energy Commission looked farther into the experiments, they found out that Heller was conducting other tests as well — he gave the prisoners hormone shots and other drugs just to see what they would do to "male reproduction."

While surviving prisoners have sued the government, the suits have returned little result.

[Via Oregon Prisoners Exposed to Ionizing Radiation, Whiteout, Testicular Irradiation of Washington State Prison Inmates]