10 Outrageous Experiments Conducted on Humans


The Human Vivisections of Herophilus

Even when mummification was a natural part of Ancient Egypt’s culture, dissection of a body was desecration. © KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
Even when mummification was a natural part of Ancient Egypt’s culture, dissection of a body was desecration. © KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images

Ancient physician Herophilus is considered the father of anatomy. And while he made significant discoveries during his practice, it's how he learned about internal workings of the human body that lands him on this list.

Herophilus practiced medicine in Alexandria, Egypt, and during the reign of the first two Ptolemaio Pharoahs was allowed, at least for about 30 to 40 years, to dissect human bodies, which he did, publicly, along with contemporary Greek physician and anatomist Erasistratus. Under Ptolemy I and Ptolemy II, criminals could be sentenced to dissection and vivisection as punishment, and it's said the father of anatomy not only dissected the dead but also performed vivisection on an estimated 600 living prisoners [source: Elhadi].

Herophilus made great strides in the study of human anatomy — especially the brain, eyes, liver, circulatory system, nervous system and reproductive system, during a time in history when dissecting human cadavers was considered an act of desecration of the body (there were no autopsies conducted on the dead, although mummification was popular in Egypt at the time). And, like today, performing vivisection on living bodies was considered butchery.

Author's Note

There is no denying that involving living, breathing humans in medical studies have produced some invaluable results, but there's that one medical saying most of us know, even if we're not in a medical field: first do no harm (or, if you're fancy, primum non nocere).

Related Articles

More Great Links


  • Alving, Alf S. "Procedures Used At Stateville Penitentiary For The Testing Of Potential Antimalarial Agents." Journal of Clinical Investigation. Vol. 27, No. 3 (part 2). Pages 2-5. May 1948. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.jci.org/articles/view/101956
  • American Heritage Center Foundation. "Education Materials Index: Malaria in World War II." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.armyheritage.org/education-and-programs/educational-resources/education-materials-index/50-information/soldier-stories/182-malaria-in-world-war-ii
  • Bartlett, Tom. "A New Twist in the Sad Saga of Little Albert." The Chronicle of Higher Education." Jan. 25, 2012. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://chronicle.com/blogs/percolator/a-new-twist-in-the-sad-saga-of-little-albert/28423
  • Blass, Thomas. "The Man Who Shocked The World." Psychology Today. June 13, 2012. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200203/the-man-who-shocked-the-world
  • Brick, Neil. "Mind Control Documents & Links." Stop Mind Control and Ritual Abuse Today (S.M.A.R.T.). (Aug. 10, 2014) https://ritualabuse.us/mindcontrol/mc-documents-links/
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee: The Tuskegee Timeline." Dec. 10, 2013. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm
  • Cohen, Baruch. "The Ethics Of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments." Jlaw.com - Jewish Law Blog.(Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.jlaw.com/Articles/NaziMedEx.html
  • Collins, Dan. "'Monster Study' Still Stings." CBS News. Aug. 6, 2003. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.cbsnews.com/news/monster-study-still-stings/
  • Comfort, Nathaniel. "The prisoner as model organism: malaria research at Stateville Penitentiary." Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences." Vol. 40, no. 3. Pages 190-203. September 2009. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2789481/
  • DeAngelis, T. "'Little Albert' regains his identity." Monitor on Psychology. Vol. 41, no. Page 10. 2010. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.apa.org/monitor/2010/01/little-albert.aspx
  • Elhadi, Ali M. "The Journey of Discovering Skull Base Anatomy in Ancient Egypt and the Special Influence of Alexandria." Neurosurgical Focus. Vol. 33, No. 2. 2012. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/769263_5
  • Fridlund, Alan J. "Little Albert: A neurologically impaired child." History of Psychology. Vol. 15, No. 4. Pages 302-327. November 2013. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/2012-01974-001/
  • Harcourt, Bernard E. "Making Willing Bodies: Manufacturing Consent Among Prisoners and Soldiers, Creating Human Subjects, Patriots, and Everyday Citizens - The University of Chicago Malaria Experiments on Prisoners at Stateville Penitentiary." University of Chicago Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 544; Public Law Working Paper No. 341. Feb. 6, 2011. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1758829
  • Harris, Sheldon H. "Biological Experiments." Crimes of War Project. 2011. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.crimesofwar.org/a-z-guide/biological-experiments/
  • Hornblum, Allen M. "They Were Cheap and Available: Prisoners as Research Subjects in Twentieth Century America." British Medical Journal. Vol. 315. Pages 1437-1441. 1997. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://gme.kaiserpapers.org/they-were-cheap-and-available.html
  • Kaplan, Robert. "The Aversion Project -- Psychiatric Abuses In The South African Defence Force During The Apartheid Era." South African Medical Journal. Vol. 91, no. 3. Pages 216-217. March 2001. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://archive.samj.org.za/2001%20VOL%2091%20Jan-Dec/Articles/03%20March/1.5%20THE%20AVERSION%20PROJECT%20-%20PSYCHIATRIC%20ABUSES%20IN%20THE%20SOUTH%20AFRICAN%20DEFENCE%20FORCE%20DURING%20THE%20APART.pdf
  • Kaplan, Robert M. "Treatment of homosexuality during apartheid." British Medical Journal. Vol. 329, no. 7480. Pages 1415-1416. Dec. 18, 2004. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC535952/
  • Kaplan, Robert M. "Treatment of homosexuality in the South African Defence Force during the Apartheid years ." British Medical Journal. February 20, 2004. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.bmj.com/rapid-response/2011/10/30/treatment-homosexuality-south-african-defence-force-during-apartheid-years
  • Keen, Judy. "Legal battle ends over stuttering experiment." USA Today. Aug. 27, 2007. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-08-26-stuttering_N.htm
  • Kristof, Nicholas D. "Unmasking Horror -- A special report; Japan Confronting Gruesome War Atrocity." The New York Times. March 17, 1995. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/1995/03/17/world/unmasking-horror-a-special-report-japan-confronting-gruesome-war-atrocity.html
  • Landau, Elizabeth. "Studies show 'dark chapter' of medical research." CNN. Oct. 1, 2010. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/10/01/guatemala.syphilis.tuskegee/
  • Mayo Clinic. "Stuttering: Causes." Sept. 8, 2011. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stuttering/basics/causes/con-20032854
  • Mayo Clinic. "Syphilis." Jan. 2, 2014. (Aug. 20, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/syphilis/basics/definition/con-20021862
  • McCurry, Justin. "Japan unearths site linked to human experiments." The Guardian. Feb. 21, 2011. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/feb/21/japan-excavates-site-human-experiments
  • McGreal, Chris. "Gays tell of mutilation by apartheid army." The Guardian. July 28, 2000. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.theguardian.com/world/2000/jul/29/chrismcgreal
  • Milgram, Stanley. "Behavioral Study of Obedience." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. No. 67. Pages 371-378. 1963. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://wadsworth.cengage.com/psychology_d/templates/student_resources/0155060678_rathus/ps/ps01.html
  • NPR. "Taking A Closer Look At Milgram's Shocking Obedience Study." Aug. 28, 2013. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.npr.org/2013/08/28/209559002/taking-a-closer-look-at-milgrams-shocking-obedience-study
  • Rawlings, Nate. "Top 10 Weird Government Secrets: CIA Mind-Control Experiments." Time. Aug. 6, 2010. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,2008962_2008964_2008992,00.html
  • Reynolds, Gretchen. "The Stuttering Doctor's 'Monster Study'." The New York Times. March 16, 2003. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/16/magazine/the-stuttering-doctor-s-monster-study.html
  • Ryall, Julian. "Human bones could reveal truth of Japan's 'Unit 731' experiments." The Telegraph. Feb. 15, 2010. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/japan/7236099/Human-bones-could-reveal-truth-of-Japans-Unit-731-experiments.html
  • Science Channel - Dark Matters. "Project MKULTRA." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.sciencechannel.com/tv-shows/dark-matters-twisted-but-true/documents/project-mkultra.htm
  • Shea, Christopher. "Stanley Milgram and the uncertainty of evil." The Boston Globe. Sept. 29, 2013. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/09/28/stanley-milgram-and-uncertainty-evil/qUjame9xApiKc6evtgQRqN/story.html
  • Shermer, Michael. "What Milgram's Shock Experiments Really Mean." Scientific American. Oct. 16, 2012. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-milgrams-shock-experiments-really-mean/
  • Si-Yang Bay, Noel. "Green anatomist herohilus: the father of anatomy." Anatomy & Cell Biology. Vol. 43, No. 4. Pages 280-283. December 2010. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3026179/
  • Stobbe, Mike. "Ugly past of U.S. human experiments uncovered." NBC News. Feb. 27, 2011. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41811750/ns/health-health_care/t/ugly-past-us-human-experiments-uncovered
  • Tuskegee University. "About the USPHS Syphilis Study." (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/centers_of_excellence/bioethics_center/about_the_usphs_syphilis_study.aspx
  • Tyson, Peter. "Holocaust on Trial: The Experiments." PBS. October 2000. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/holocaust/experiside.html
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. "Nazi Medical Experiments." June 20, 2014. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005168
  • Van Zul, Mikki. "The Aversion Project." South African medical Research Council. October 1999. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.mrc.ac.za/healthsystems/aversion.pdf
  • Watson, John B.; and Rosalie Rayner. "Conditioned Emotional Reactions." Journal of Experimental Psychology. Vol. 3, No. 1. Pages 1-14. 1920. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Watson/emotion.htm
  • Wiltse, LL. "Herophilus of Alexandria (325-255 B.C.). The father of anatomy." Spine. Vol. 23, no. 7. Pages 1904-1914. Sept. 1, 1998. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9762750
  • Working, Russell. "The trial of Unit 731." June 2001. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2001/06/05/commentary/world-commentary/the-trial-of-unit-731/
  • Zetter, Kim. "April 13, 1953: CIA OKs MK-ULTRA Mind-Control Tests." Wired. April 13, 2010. (Aug. 10, 2014) http://www.wired.com/2010/04/0413mk-ultra-authorized/


Is 'Young Blood' the Fountain of Youth?

Is 'Young Blood' the Fountain of Youth?

A startup is touting the anti-aging effects of transfusing teenagers' blood in older people. Stuff They Don't Want You To Know investigates.