In the 1950s and ’60s, a medical researcher from Columbia University was trying to prove that prostate cancer could be caught early and cured. He needed subjects for a study to test his treatment, so he cut a deal with skid row alcoholics in New York: If they agreed to surgical biopsies of their prostates, they would get a clean bed and three meals for a few days. They also would get free medical care and treatment if they had prostate cancer.
There was one problem: The researcher didn’t warn the men that the biopsies could cause impotence and rectal tears; that, if cancer was found, the treatment was removal of their prostates and, often, their testicles, and that it hadn’t been proved to prolong life.
In “Decades Later, Condemnation for a Skid Row Cancer Study,” by Gina Kolata, the New York Times recently told the story of this astonishing breach of medical-and human-ethics, which you can read here