Clinical Trials and the Cultural Mania for Torture

Harlow Rejection Mother*

I am against clinical trials.

Rather, I am against clinical trials as they are now conceived and implemented.

I am against the mass “treatment” of the desperately ill via the marketing of hope (and often one of “only hope”).

I have no stats and I’ll certainly update this next contention should someone share some valid and pertinent data with me: Surely most clinical trials offer zero benefit to any subjects in terms of quality of life and likely not even in quantity of life.

As far as I can tell it appears there is not great cost burden placed on drug companies or even insurance companies to manage clinical trials.

Rather, if we are to agree that this is the way we approve of experimentation on humans with no discernible success but masses of evidence regarding pain and loss of quality of life, then I propose that every trial subject be given a large amount of cash.

After all, not only, as the propaganda goes, are they aiding (I’d say abetting) “reserach” science, they are “taking one for the team” of humanity, so to speak, so it’s claimed.  Instead, of course, they are simply suffering cogs in the machinery of medically-induced pain prolongation.

A large number of people have begun to understand that humans are barbarous and cruel in our indiscriminate use, abuse, and torture of “lesser” animals.  Of course, most Americans have no qualm against massive slaughter houses and the raising and cultivating of mammal life as if it were comparable to wheat or corn.  That’s what the good Lord intended after all.

Yet we have, in order to create massive profits for drug companies, created a most elaborate mechanism for chemical and biological experimentation on the supposedly most precious and special species on the planet.

And really, this is not just the easily identified experimentation of medical drug trials; I would include all chemical and biological manipulations of the species and the planet.

All of this achieved via the consent of the “governed” and the passive assent of participants in consumer economic systems.

The truly amazing thing to me is that we actually pay for the privilege to be experimented upon.  The American Dream, the land of the free, is the place where one can come to be the most free guinea pig in the world.  It is indeed a very large and shiny cage for many of us.

Thank you for the environmental cancers that have developed due to constant toxicities created and released into the world and thank you for the opportunity you’ve given me to be experimented on in order to devise a treatment for the maladies created.  You are so kind and beneficent, brilliant scientists.

Do you recall those mengeles in at UW in the 60s who worked their human-loving tails off to devise a way to create a pathological rhesus monkey, Harry Harlow (National Medal of Science winner!) and Stephen Suomi (grad student, apt pupil, now at the, believe it, Natl Institute of Child Health and Human Development, still torturing monkeys)?  They made fake “mothers” to torture baby monkeys by shocking them, stabbing them, pushing them away and so on…but the babies kept coming back because mom is just hardwired for their emotional development; plus, I’d assume it must be absolutely beyond the monkeys’ understanding that the mother would be that way.  Funny that, in a sense, these little baby monkeys would conform to a definition of insanity: doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result than what you’ve been getting.

Finally, as they couldn’t seem to get the results they wanted, they decided they’d have to simply take a baby and remove the mother entirely and keep in solitary confinement for as much as 18 months.  Success!  A pathological monkey they could now figure out how to “fix.”  You want to know what worked best?  The love of a child.  Yep.  The pathologically anti-social mother monkeys wouldn’t have sex (hating all other living beings) and so the doctors devised what they lovingly called a “rape rack” to inseminate these monkeys.  After giving birth many of these new mothers simply killed their babies, often actually biting into their brains.  Also they would slam the infant’s face into the ground and scrape it back and forth.  But in several cases, depending on the extent of their confinement, the mothers could be rehabilitated by their infants

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It’s further interesting to see these torture experiments in historical context and this article,”Monsters,” at the blog Primate Freedom does an excellent job and I highly recommend reading it.  The knowledge that the removal of a child from the home and from the mother would cause severe mental and emotional difficulties in the child and throughout his/her life had already been well-established.

“Harry Harlow and his colleagues go on torturing their nonhuman primates decade after decade, invariably proving what we all knew in advance—that social creatures can be destroyed by destroying their social ties.”(Wayne C. Booth, quoted in Wikipedia entry for the “pit of despair,” link below)

One assumes Harlow wanted to come up with that ever-important Western humanistic fix, a treatment for a symptom that would ignore or make “irrelevant” the root problem.  Perhaps he dreamed of calling it the Elixir of Maternity.

This, to me, is directly relevant to clinical trials and the American scientific mania to “fix” our biological imperatives.  If only the right pill would relieve us from being human and animal in any way at all!  I’d argue that our digital culture seems to be achieving just that kind of “fix”; further that we are living in Harlow and Suomi’s “pit of despair” more and more as a matter of preference.  We arrange our lives so we have the least meaningful human contact we can, unless it’s something that we can do through this very machine, at a distance.  That’s the only “contact” we care for anymore.

With that as backdrop I’d go further and argue that “applied science” in the service of the consumption economy is intensely evil at its core as it becomes realized in this very way.  We are subjects in one very long experiment.  It is in utter dismay that I confront the fact that we honor, or at least offer deference to, by calling “science” and “research” and the noble character trait of man, the mania for discovery (exploration).

Harlow and Suomi, as vile as they are, are no exception.  The “mad” scientist is the norm, fellow subjects, and the mad patient is his collaborator.

How can you imagine that the mentality that approves of all of the above would be “for freedom,” or against the systematization of military and civilian torture regimes, or against robot surveillance and surrogacy for the military regime.

How can you imagine the human as anything else than right and proper passengers on the cattle car to holocaust?

*photo by jcarbaugh

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  1. S.S. December 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm

    This is even more horrific to think of in terms of pharmaceutical companies praying on diseased people to meet their bottom line…needing X number of people to agree to blindly subject themselves to a test just some said company can take note of the effects of a new chemical cocktail.

    No thanks. Western medicine is good for emergencies and physical traumas, for everything else grab yourself a book (or ten) on the ancient practices of Asia (China, India – choose your own adventure, they’re all holistic and human). But balance doesn’t create a market for imbalance, unless you count all those yoga studios?

  2. Doug Martin December 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    I remember running across an article somewhere that claimed when Mitch Daniels was at Eli Lilly, it was common for them to recruit homeless people to experiment on in their drug trails. This supposedly saved them money, since homeless people were desperate for money and would participate cheaply. I don’t know if this actually happened, or how legit the article was, since I didn’t take the time to dig into it too deeply. But I imagine a google search over Eli drug trails would come up with some scary findings.

    Check out this link, too. Greg Palast on Pfizer’s faulty heart valves. This is a part of one of his books and words don’t describe what he found:

  3. Cobalt December 22, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Douglas Storm doesn’t seem to know anything about experimental research after the sixties. I did my bachelor’s thesis for my anthropology degree on the use of authority and power in online communities, and I had to get IRB approval to interview people. To /talk to people/ under circumstances in which they were free to just not answer questions, and in which they were free to choose how I’d refer to them later if I did so. Why? Because that counts as human experimentation.

    Now, the author undoubtedly wasn’t intending to discuss research like mine. I am fully confident that ethnographic fieldwork like mine isn’t even on the author’s radar, because it looks a lot like Storm doesn’t actually realize the full breadth of what he’s condemning. That’d require him to do more than read the Wikipedia article on Harlow’s research (and there are so many similarly awful old studies that the fact that he only mentioned Harlow suggests to me that he didn’t spend very long researching his opinion) and get really upset at everybody who so much as sorta seems like a scientist.

    So to more directly address Storm’s apparently narrow area of exposure to research… Storm’s opposed to clinical testing, but is he opposed to marketing and selling /untested/ products? At that point, we’d all know they’re still being tested. They’d just be tested on people who didn’t consent and don’t know what they’re getting into, whereas contrary to what reading about one of the many nasty studies from decades ago might have indicated to Storm, there are standards for clinical trials or any kind of experimentation on living creatures (particularly creatures that can feel pain).

    However, Storm’s against clinical testing. What does he propose happen to products intended for animals or people before they’re sold, then? I guarantee you we’d have a lot of the same medications and other consumables, but they’d be coming without that package insert that tells you what you’re getting into. I don’t know about you, but I like that package insert. It’s how I accomplish a little thing that researchers call “informed consent.” What Storm is suggesting is wildly irresponsible and would result in danger and harm to a lot of people.

    How do I know this? Because that’s how it used to be before clinical trials were A Thing. That’s how snake oil salesmen worked. That’s how antifreeze ended up getting used as a sweetener in children’s medicine. Nobody did trials or studies because nobody had to, and you know what? People died. As someone whose loved ones /must/ take a whole host of medications for serious chronic ailments, I’m a little bothered that Storm is suggesting that “applied science” is an “intensely evil” force in our consumption economy.

    I think Storm is blinded by his own able-bodied privilege in that he can just decide that science is bad and he doesn’t want any, and he can just decide that all of its effects are evil despite how many of them keep other people alive. Frankly, if Storm or his students have received vaccinations for lethal or disabling illnesses, “applied science” is keeping him alive, too. He’s just obviously able-bodied enough to ignore it.

    Scientists need regulation. They need rules and ethical standards and accountability and consequences when those standards aren’t met. Why? Because, contrary to Storm’s narrowly-researched and ill-considered opinion, we need them.


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