From 1951 until 1974, inmates of Philadelphia’s Holmesburg Prison were used as experimental guinea pigs for secret medical experiments. The experiments were overseen and sponsored by the U.S. Army, the CIA, The University of Pennsylvania, and at least two private corporations: Dow Chemical Co. and Johnson & Johnson.
The Holmesburg Prison experiments are in blatant violation of the Nuremberg Code of 1947 as well as the Oath of Hippocrates yet they were carried out and financed in secret for decades. By 1963, there were 50 human experiments involving nearly 1,000 Holmesburg inmates involving anything from poisonous vapors, radioactive isotopes, mind controlling drugs, and triggers for psychological disturbance and violence. Experimenters also used inmates to study various skin diseases encountered during World War II. Dr. Albert Kligman, the director of the blatant abuses carried out at Holmesburg for decades, saw Holmesburg Prison as “acres of skin” and himself as “a farmer seeing a fertile field for the first time.”
Attention has been drawn slowly but steadily to one of the darkest moments in American medical and research history through efforts of former research subjects as Allen M. Hornblum’s “Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison, A True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science.” The analogy drawn between the Nazi experiments during World War II and those sanctioned by major private corporations, a well respected research institution, and the United States Government at Holmesburg is a chilling one.
Links to sources for the above passage as well as useful sites for more information:
“In Prison Air: The Cells of Holmesburg Prison”
“Human guinea pigs demand justice”
“Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison, A True Story of Abuse and Exploitation in the Name of Medical Science”
Democracy Now’s Segment on Holmesburg Prison
EDIT: Even today, the conditions at Holmesburg are clearly unacceptable: