Testing… Testing…

When Nikolai Sopko walks into a medical testing facility, it’s
usually not because he’s sick. And it’s not to practice his
burgeoning skills as a medical student. It’s for part-time work as
a professional human guinea pig, a gig he shares with many. From
college campuses to crowded Indian hospitals, researchers are
always searching for people to take part in medical tests.
Sometimes they’re willing to pay big bucks, sometimes not.

Rebecca Meiser, writing for the Cleveland Scene
profiles a few of the people who have made thousands of dollars as
test subjects. One willing participant is Bob Helms, who started
the zine Guinea Pig
as a journal for subjects of research tests. It’s now
a clearinghouse for information, testimonials, and even poetry by
and for people who take part in medical research. ‘For us, it’s
just a job,’ Helms says of himself and his colleagues. ‘As with any
other jobs, you’ve just gotta be aware of what you’re getting

But Helms has a luxury that many test subjects do not have: If
he doesn’t like the look of a certain experiment, he doesn’t have
to take part. Others don’t have that choice. The history of medical
experimentation is filled with incidents like the
Syphilis Study
, where black men with syphilis were denied
treatment in the name of science. Such abuses don’t seem like
history when compared to the relatively recent scandal of the
‘guinea pig kids,’ where

New York orphanages and foster homes used HIV-positive children as
to test experimental AIDS drugs. There are laws and
regulations in place to protect human test subjects, but

Jeffrey Kahn of Seed Magazine
points out that much of
the regulation applies only to public research, leaving private
research largely unregulated in an ‘obvious shortcoming’ he calls
on Congress to resolve.

Even with improvements to the American system, if the laws of
the United States get too restrictive, companies can always go
Kahn of Wired
reports on the many poor and illiterate
people in India who are essentially sold to medical science.
‘Patients here are very passive,’ says S. P. Kalantri, a doctor in
India. ‘They will almost never question their doctor.’ Knowing
this, the Indian government has recently loosened its laws to allow
for more medical experimentation and to attract more dollars from
Big Pharma.

In many cases, there may actually be a good cause behind these
medical experiments: Companies are developing drugs that save
lives. Jennifer Kahn points to Herceptin, a breast cancer drug, as
evidence of the need for more human test subjects. The effective
treatment was held up due to a lack of test subjects. As a result,
the only people with access to the drug were those who took part in
medical experimentation. But tests like these are rife with risks.
As Jeffrey Kahn notes, ‘The goal of research is to advance
knowledge, but that cannot come at the expense of the rights (and
sometimes health) of our fellow citizens.’

Go there >>

Guinea Pig Gang

Go there too >>
Nation of Guinea Pigs

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