Self-Experimentation in Medicine
Who Goes First:
The Story of
In Medicine
Lawrence K. Altman
(Random House)
Altman has a story to tell, and it can be glimpsed through the murk. It's not necessarily pleasant reading, however: doctors and researchers chowing down on staphylococci-infected sponge cake, plugging diseased mosquitoes into their arms, nibbling on scabs like potato chips, wrapping themselves in bedclothes contaminated with victims' "black vomit, urine, and ... bloody stools."

But the stakes are high, and the diseases are hugely tragic:


(It says something about politics and the narrow nationalistic bent of epidemiology that these two diseases threaten a half a billion people --- while AIDS, with a thousand times the media coverage --- has, to date, infected nowhere near that number.)

Dr. Altman tells of many unknown heroes in self-experimentation: Claude Barlow, Arthur Looss, Maurice Hall, David Clyde. He also comments acidly on the unjustly famous Walter Reed: three of his colleagues exposed themselves to mosquitoes bearing the yellow-fever virus. One, Jesse Lazear, died of it. A second, James Carroll, was permanently weakened by it.

Reed? The day he was scheduled to experiment on himself, he disappeared --- and by the time he returned he refused to go through with it. Yet he got the glory --- while his compatriots sickened or died.

--- M. S. Winters

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