When Grandpa Was A Boy, Were There Any Dinosaurs?

Tag archive: Medical Ethics

Toffees Rot Teeth

1954: Scandinavian dentists had for years puzzled over the abysmal dental health of the population. In the 1930s, for instance, 83 per cent of 3-year-olds had tooth decay. What were the causes? A deficiency disease? A poor diet? Excessive carbohydrate intake?

The Vipeholm dental caries study was intended to provide answers. Experimenters at the Vipeholm mental hospital in Sweden first tinkered with the vitamin intake of inmates, and when that produced no significant changes in levels of tooth decay, fed them each up to 24 sticky toffees a day. That produced a marked increase in cavities, demonstrating a clear link between sugar consumption and tooth decay.

Feeding exaggerated quantities of toffees to unwitting human beings resulted in lots of ruined teeth and, belatedly, lots of ethical questions, but it also produced much valuable evidence about the causes of tooth decay.

Source: Prevention of Oral Disease, ed. J.J. Murray (1996), pp. 11–13

“Clinical Material”

1972: For 40 years, black men in Alabama were the unwitting participants in a Public Health Service study of the effects of untreated syphilis. From 1932 until 1972, when The Associated Press broke the story, the Tuskegee Study followed the progress of the disease in a group of 399 men. No effort was made to cure the men. When penicillin became available for the treatment of syphilis, it was deliberately withheld from them, since its use would interfere with the experiment. By the time the study was terminated, at least 28 and possibly as many as 100 of the participants had died from complications caused by the disease. “They were subjects, not patients;” James H. Jones observed in Bad Blood, “clinical material, not sick people.”

Source: James H. Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (1993), pp. 1–2, 179