Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Science, Technology and Society Program


James R. Fleming


For as long as medicine and medical practices have been around, so has the need for testing treatments in or procedures on the human body. Over the course of history, however, the nature, structure, and prominence of human biomedical experimentation has changed drastically both on an international and national level. My thesis focuses on revealing the driving forces behind these changes in administrative, legal and social factors related to human experimentation in an effort to connect the dots from the manipulative, forceful and unethical experimentation of early medical practitioners to the safe, voluntary and highly regulated experimentation characteristic of clinical research today. Although human biomedical experimentation spans many cultures, countries, and time frames, my research focuses on the history of experimentation in the United States from the mid-twentieth century until present day, while still framing the topic in a larger global context. I have chosen this time period because it captures an immense period of change and I have chosen to focus on just one country since regulations and cultural shifts related to this topic often occur at a national level. Through my research, I have found that throughout the twentieth century, major cases of unethical human experimentation have sparked periods of public outrage, increased public awareness of ethical issues, and consequently have led to an increase in regulations and an increase in regulatory bodies governing human biomedical experimentation. Such changes have created a much safer system of testing biomedical products or procedures on human subjects in the United States.


bioethics, clinical research, human experimentation, Nuremberg, Tuskegee, Project MKUltra