Wrong is wrong

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It is almost unfathomable today: that a Canadian government would use at least 1,300 Canadians as nutritional guinea pigs: that, in an effort to understand food issues, scientists would give some subjects healthy food, while denying that same food to others. Give some nutritional supplements: withhold those supplements from others. And throughout the process, deny the unwitting subjects proper dental care, over concerns that care could cloud the results of the experiments.

But that is apparently what did happen between 1942 and 1952 with aboriginal children and adults in six residential schools across the country, in native reserves in northern Manitoba and, perhaps, on a broader scale as well.

Revelations about the studies came in a paper published by University of Guelph food historian Ian Mosby: widely reported on Tuesday, Mosby’s examination says that scientists took children and adults who were living essentially at a starvation level, and instead of getting them food, experimented with other nutritional options like supplements without informed consent for the studies.

You do not have to be a food scientist to understand that withholding proper nutrition has potentially life-changing effects long after the experiment ended, nor do you have to be an ethicist to understand that people have a right to know if they are the subjects of a potentially life-changing experiment.

You can argue that this was a different time, that there were different medical standards, and that we would not allow such work now.

Here’s what Justice Murray Sinclair, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said to The Toronto Star about the studies: “Everybody who was involved in scientific work (at the time) knew it was wrong to put people into an experimental situation without informing them what they were doing.”

Stop for a minute and think about the subject of human experimentation on a broader level: during the same period of time, much of the world was convulsed in the Second World War, fighting an enemy that we argued was inherently evil. Among the examples of that evil that came to light as the Nazi empire was defeated?

Nutrition experimentation — and far more serious experimentation — on minority prisoners held in prison camps. The Nazis felt their work was justified, because, in their racist logic, these were lesser humans.

It makes you wonder a little bit about the moral high ground we claimed then, and maintain today.

Leave all that aside, stop for a moment and ask yourself a simple question: how would you feel if you were to discover that your children, taken from you for a “proper” education far from home, had been the unwilling test subjects in studies that kept them from being fed properly?

Whether it was happening now, 20 years ago or in 1942, you would be furious with the government for taking an active role in allowing the research to go ahead.

And you would be legitimately asking the question: how did an ethical, caring country allow this to happen?

Organizations: University of Guelph, Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Geographic location: Northern Manitoba

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Recent comments

  • Daniel Corbett
    July 27, 2013 - 13:33

    Would these experiments and studies into the value of nutrition qualify as a conspiracy? This plan was obviously concocted by mindless automatons, nevertheless, it evidently went forward. Those who, through ignorance, convince themselves that the end justifies the means can get up to a lot of mischief and cause a lot of harm if they are not watched closely and reigned in from time to time. In this particular case, in northern Manitoba between 1942 and 1952 when nobody was looking, there were obviously lunatics parading as scientists and humanitarians who were devoted to what they believed to be a cause for the greater good. Lately, every day that goes by proves, in glaring detail, the need for openness and transparency in Government and, of course, the dire need for people with the courage to ask the questions and tell it like it is.

  • Dishonesty and deceitfulness in Government should be eradicated.
    July 22, 2013 - 12:45

    If First Nation Treaties with the Crown had been honored and the First Nations people had been treated in the same manner that the so-called elite Canadians had been treated , First Nations people would have assimilated into the Canadian population with a good education and fully employed. But as we are quite aware of what happened in Newfoundland and Labrador after our province became the 10th province in 1949, Canada took over our province and our natural resources were exploited for the rest of Canada . The province of Newfoundland and Labrador was left in the dust economically because our natural resources were pilfered to grow economies elsewhere in Canada. Besides Ottawa had the audacity to make Newfoundlanders and Labradorians believe that they had no natural resources, our geographic location was not good to produce anything and we were stupid, all the while we had the greatest amount of natural resources in Canada and our geographic location was second to none if not the best in the whole country.

  • Xavier
    July 21, 2013 - 14:55

    Answering the question "how did an ethical, caring country allow this to happen?" in light of real dissenting facts of this commonly assumed notion makes it clear that "ethical, caring" governments are rarely or never the true reality. Governments in Canada, the US, and elsewhere indoctrinate its populace with the idea/lie that they are "an ethical, caring country" while hiding the real truth from them. And most people prefer to believe in a comfortable fantasy or lie. In the US, for instance, the FDA and the mainstream media machine continue to suppress truthful information on the value of nutritional supplements that could be of great benefit to the public, simply to accommodate special private interests (see http://www.supplements-and-health.com/vitamin-benefits.html ). People's propensity to fall for propaganda, rather than the truth, is endless...

  • Ed Power
    July 20, 2013 - 09:13

    Our very own Tuskegee Experiment.....