For the Good of Mankind?: The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation by Vicki O. Wittenstein


NF PB 2013

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday

Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday is hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy and was started to help promote the reading of nonfiction texts. Most Wednesdays, we will be participating and will review a nonfiction text (though it may not always be a picture book). Be sure to visit Kid Lit Frenzy and see what other nonfiction books are shared this week!

for the good of mankind

For the Good of Mankind?: The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation
Author: Vicki O. Wittenstein
Published: August 1st, 2013 by Lerner Publishing Group


Experiment: A child is deliberately infected with the deadly smallpox disease without his parents’ informed consent.
Result: The world’s first vaccine.
Experiment: A slave woman is forced to undergo more than thirty operations without anesthesia.
Result: The beginnings of modern gynecology.
Experiment: From 1946 to 1953, seventy-four boys are fed oatmeal laced with radioactive iron and calcium.
Result: A better understanding of the effects of radioactivity on the human body.

Experimental incidents such as these paved the way for crucial medical discoveries and lifesaving cures and procedures. But they also violated the rights of their subjects, many of whom did not give their consent to the experiments. The subjects suffered excruciating pain and humiliation. Some even died as a result of the procedures. Even in the twenty-first century—despite laws, regulations, and ethical conventions—the tension between medical experimentation and patient rights continues.

How do doctors balance the need to test new medicines and procedures with their ethical and moral duty to protect the rights of human subjects? What price has been paid for medical knowledge? Can we learn from the broken oaths of the past?

Take a harrowing journey through some of history’s greatest medical advances—and its most horrifying medical atrocities. You’ll read about orphans injected with lethal tuberculosis and concentration camp inmates tortured by Nazi doctors. You’ll also learn about radiation experimentation and present-day clinical trials that prove fatal. Through these stories, explore the human suffering that has gone hand in hand with medical advancement.

Review: Human experimentation is a very difficult subject matter, one that both horrifies and fascinates teens. I always try to believe in the good of mankind, but books like this always seem to challenge that assumption. It was difficult for me to read this book because I cannot fathom how any person could justify using individuals (including CHILDREN!) for experimentation. This book is incredibly well-researched and documents a variety of cases of experimentation. I couldn’t put it down because I was so astonished by the details of the cases. It is colorful and eye-appealing, and this will captivate reluctant readers. I think teenagers would see nonfiction in a very positive light if they were given books like this one. I absolutely recommend it to teachers.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: Teachers might assign different chapters to groups of students. Students will enjoy reading about and presenting the material covered in this book. Persuasive essays are always a chore, but there are many controversial issues within this book, and I think students would really enjoy writing essays about this subject matter. This book also includes discussion questions for readers.

Discussion Questions: Can we justify the experimentation on a human being if it will better the lives of millions of people?; Why do you think human experimentation was allowed for such a long time? Can we judge the doctors who experimented on people centuries ago?; Applying the stories to animals, do you think animal experimentation is justifiable? Why or why not?

Read This If You Loved: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, books in the Real Justice series, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley


Recommended For:

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6 thoughts on “For the Good of Mankind?: The Shameful History of Human Medical Experimentation by Vicki O. Wittenstein”

  1. Sounds interesting. I think I’d rather stay away from this book, though! Human experimentation scares me to death; I think I’d need more than an impersonal narrator to help guide me through learning about it.

    • Daniel, your response makes sense! I will say, though, that it made me feel very informed. I was afraid of it, but I was very glad that I read it.

  2. Ricki – This book brings up some great discussion questions for a classroom. I like that it isn’t super long but still informative.

  3. Thanks for reviewing my book, Ricki. You’re right, the subject is challenging and yes, a bit scary at times! But it’s a great topic for learning about history. Doctors have always conducted human medical experimentation, from ancient times through the present, so the experiments performed often reflected the ethics and morality of the particular historical period. Students and adults are always faced with moral issues. I hope the book challenges them to debate the ethics and to never forsake what they believe in.

    • Vicki,
      You expressed my thoughts quite eloquently. Your book is incredible. It goes beyond human experimentation and teaches students about morality and how this is reflected in humanity. It will elicit responses that would be very valuable for discussion in the classroom. This would make for a great resource for teachers.


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