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Acres of Skin: Human Experiments at Holmesburg Prison

NCJ Number
A M Hornblum
Date Published
319 pages
This study exposes and examines the medical research conducted on inmates at Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison from the early 1950s through the mid-1970s.
During this period, inmates were used, in exchange for a few dollars, as subjects in a host of medical experiments. The author argues that at Holmesburg the American medical establishment betrayed the ideals of the Hippocratic Oath and the Nuremberg Code. An array of doctors, in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania and prison officials, established Holmesburg as a laboratory testing ground. Hundreds of prisoners were used to test products from facial creams and skin moisturizers to perfumes, detergents, and anti-rash treatments. Other experiments used the inmates as test subjects for far more hazardous, even potentially lethal, substances, such as radioactive isotopes, dioxin, and chemical warfare agents. Based on in-depth interviews with dozens of prisoners as well as the doctors and prison officials who, respectively, performed and permitted these experimental tests, the author presents an account of abuse, moral indifference, and greed. Central to this account are the millions of dollars many of America's leading drug and consumer- goods companies made available for the doctors motivated by the desire for fame and money based on these medical experiments. According to the author, many of these doctors established their careers on the basis of their experiments on these inmate subjects, who were isolated, cheap, and locked away from the public eye. A 286-item bibliography, chapter notes, and a subject index