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January 12, 1994 - Image 7

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The Michigan Daily, 1994-01-12

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The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, January 12, 1994 - 7

.Human radiation tests questioned by some, hailed by others

BOSTON (AP) -Forty years ago,
doctors injected uranium into a dozen
patients on the brink of death. All
were hopelessly sick with brain tu-
mors. Most lay in comas. There was a
slim chance the shots would help.
The tests were cited by a congres-
sional report as "repugnant." Some
doctors say they are examples of the
way medical science has always
worked, engaging the unfortunate ill
in the search for treatments that might
help others later.
The congressional subcommittee
report, issued in 1986, listed the ura-
nium experiment at Massachusetts

General Hospital as one of 31 worri-
some examples. It said the human
subjects "were essentially used as
guinea pigs and calibration devices."
At the time, the report had little
impact. But because of recent revela-
tions about ethically questionable
experiments during that period, in-
cluding injecting plutonium into
people without their knowledge, it
has received new attention.
The Massachusetts General ex-
periment struck the subcommittee as
questionable because the data were
shared with federal scientists who used
it to set exposure standards for ura-

nium workers. The panel also was
skeptical whether treatment was truly
a goal.
However, those who were there
when the testing began in 1953 re-
member a simple humane mission -
a cancer cure. Their work was a small
part of a major effort that led to a
cancer treatment that is still being
used. And it was carried out with the
permission of the patients' families.
These differing viewpoints high-
light the difficulty of judging the wis-
dom of radiation experiments con-
ducted two generations ago.
Ethical standards have evolved.

Committee reviews and elaborate
consent forms are now routine for
such research. Furthermore, the in-
tense scientific excitement about the
potential of radiation as a medical
tool is now a distant memory.
Doctors working in the field back
then maintain that their experiments
fell within the mainstream of scien-
tific investigation. The amounts of
radioactive material used were often
minuscule; the studies yielded data
that eventually made the medical use
of radiation commonplace.
"These experiments were carried
out to find the information that we are

using today," said Dr. Michel Ter-
Pogossian of Washington University
in St. Louis. "Every medical school in
the country now has a very active,
vibrant department of nuclear medi-
cine, the existence of which can be
directly traced to that period."
In the early 1950s, thanks to the
Manhattan Project, radioactive mate-
rial became available in large enough
quantities to carry out meaningful
experiments. The goal was to employ
these substances to learn about the
human body, to find new ways to
diagnose diseases and ultimately to
treat them.

Those who were there remember
the times as being almost as thrilling
as the developmentof penicillin a few
years before.
"We entered into the use of radio-
active material with great enthusi-
asm," remembered Dr. Belton Bur-
rows of the Veterans Administration
Medical Center in Boston.
"We had seen patients snatched
from the grave because of the new
antibiotics. The idea of coming up
with a simple, practical, workable
solution based on knowledge we could
gain from (radioactive) tracer studies
was very appealing."

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Government fails to
recover S&L losses

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DALLAS (AP) - In Texas, sav-
ings and loan failures were as plenti-
ful as tumbleweeds, but the
government's effort to recoup an es-
timated $200 billion in losses has
hardly matched the task.
The Resolution Trust Corp. failed
to issue a single subpoena in 99 of the
122 investigations of thrift officials
handled by its three offices in Dallas,
Houston and San Antonio from 1989
to early 1993, according to subpoena
logs at the S&L cleanup agency.
Not a single RTC case against
Texas S&L operators ever reached a
jury. The few officials who were sued
usually settled out of court for pen-
nies on the dollar.

The recovery effort has been so
poor that one of the RTC's most pro-
ductive attorneys in Texas, Tom
Burnside, quit in disgust last year and
later told Congress his bosses "just
wanted to bury the S&L mess in an
unmarked grave."
The Treasury Department recently
sent an investigative team to Texas to
find out what went wrong.
Its first recommendation was
harsh: All remaining cases against
S&L insiders should be transferred to
the RTC's sister agency, the Federal
Deposit Insurance Corp., according
to officials close to the review. The
officials spoke only on condition they
not be identified by name.

I

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Monday
January 17th*
McKenny Union
Ballroom
7:3Opif
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