Monday, May 12, 2008

LSD and the corruption of medicine (Part V): The UK connection

This is the last in a series of posts marking the death of Albert Hofmann, inventor of LSD.

Over two decades starting in 1953 a CIA project named MK-ULTRA controlled a U.S. academic chemical interrogation research program. The seeds for many of the current problems of medicine lie in the story of MK-ULTRA. The research involved murder and the torture of tens of thousands of unwitting human participants. MK-ULTRA set the standard for later industrial-university collaboration. It set the most important precedent for the collusion of academic leadership and civilized government with scientific misconduct. It was the most flagrant violation of the just-signed Nuremberg code of ethics.

Porton Down LSD tests

Experiments on "unwitting" humans involving LSD and other agents were also carried out in the UK.

The tip of that iceberg is visible through cases which have come to court. In February 2006 three UK ex-servicemen were given compensation after admissions that they had been given LSD without their consent in the 1950s as part of torture related research at the Porton Down military medical research base[1]. They had been lied to about the experiments for 30 years (audio of one of the men describing his experiences here).

On Jan 31 2008 it was reported that 369 further victims of non-consensual experiments had been awarded a payment totalling £3million[2]. Up to 20,000 people took part in various trials at Porton Down in the 50 years up to 1989. Other servicemen died when they were exposed to chemical agents such as sarin at Porton Down experiments done without consent[3,4,5]. At least 25 health men may have died as a result of these experiments, including at least one who died immediately following exposure.

Cover up

The UK government has refused to apologise for the failure to obtain consent and the damage caused, saying only "The security of the country rested on these trials" and that "there may have been shortcomings and, where, in particular, the life or health of participants may have been put at risk"[2].

It is not clear how the "security of the country rested on these trials".

Cover-up has been palpable. Sham inquests were held in the 1950's in order to "protect national security", and parents of the men may have been induced to lie[6]. Ronald Maddison died within an hour of having sarin dripped onto his arm. The original inquest was held in secret, and ruled that he died of "asphyxia" [6]. Maddison's father agreed at the time to say his son's death was "an unfortunate accident while on duty" in order to "protect national security" [6]. The truth only emerged 50 years later.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office which deals with MI6 inquiries said:[7] "It's history: No one knows precisely what happened 52 years ago".

The nature of this supposed historical imprecision is in itself uncertain, in view of the fact that requests by the men to place pertinent case documents into the public domain were refused[1].

As in the U.S. there is the suggestion that parliamentarians were kept unaware. Bruce George, chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said it would be misleading to say the parliamentary committee knew everything that was going on at the Porton Down base and that [8]: "It's too big for us to know, and, secondly, there are many things happening there that I'm not even certain ministers are fully aware of, let alone parliamentarians."

Involvement of Academia in the UK

In comparison with the U.S. there is less evidence for extensive collaboration between the intelligence services and academic institutions to conduct MK-ULTRA type research. British Psychiatrist William Sargant appears to have been funded by MK-ULTRA to perform experiments on patients at St. Thomas' Hospital[9,10,11]. Sargant worked closely with Ewen Cameron, the MK-ULTRA clinician at McGill.

There is some evidence that the abuses at Porton Down occurred with the knowledge and collusion of "professional medical bodies". UK Defence Minister John Spellar stated that:[8] "there are ethical procedures in place, that have been evolved in discussions not just with our people but with medical bodies as well".

I would like to know what that advice was and who gave it. UK Medical bodies, including the General Medical Council have not to my knowledge ever made it clear that doctors (and the bodies that represent them) should not engage in or facilitate torture. That is hardly a surprise.


  1. MI6 payouts over secret LSD tests. British Broadcasting Corporation (2008-05-03).
  2. Laura Smith, Owen Bowcott and Rob Evans (2008-01-31). Porton Down veterans awarded £3m compensation. The Guardian.
  3. MoD agrees sarin case settlement. British Broadcasting Corporation (2006-02-13).
  4. Police probe Porton Down deaths. British Broadcasting Corporation (2006-02-13).
  5. Orr James and Evans Rob (2008-01-17). Research base with a dark past. The Guardian.
  6. Tricked into nerve gas tests. British Broadcasting Corporation (2005-04-19).
  7. UK pays out for '50s LSD tests. Reuters (2006-02-24). Retrieved on 2008-05-03.
  8. Chemical base 'too big', says MP. British Broadcasting Corporation (1999-08-20).
  9. Anne Collins, "In the Sleep Room" Toronto: Lester and Orpen Dennys, 1988, ISBN 0-88619-198-X
  10. Marks, John (1979). The Search for the Manchurian Candidate: CIA and Mind Control. W W Norton & Co Ltd, 264. ISBN 0393307948.
  11. Thomas, Gordon (1988). Journey into Madness: Medical Torture and the Mind Controllers. Bantam Press, 398. ISBN 0593011422.
For Part I see Part I: Invention and the beginnings of MK-ULTRA
For Part II see Part II: The entanglement of academia
For Part III see Part III: Naming Names
For Part IV see Part IV: Pfizer and memory

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1 comment:

PoorRichard said...

At the age of 12, I qualified for advanced education @ the Univercity of Iowa. For the next 3 months 5 days a week, Dr. Harper put me on high doses of Thorizine and LSD. I would be strapped to a bed as they hooked up wires to variouse places mostly scalp. They then would proceed with a strobe light near my face. The doctor used belitteling language and insults as I fell into a deep LSD induced trip.
My father recued me from the doctor at risk of arrest. My mother was given custidy of me. 45 years later, I still have the occasional flashback, and as of yet have never been compensated for the perminate damage.