Bioethics News

Secrecy, Security, & Science

In 1994, before the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins was established, Ruth Faden was asked to consult the US Department of Energy (DOE) on reports of government-sponsored radiation-related medical research on citizens without their knowledge. At the time, Faden was a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health, teaching medical ethics. Shocked by the accounts of widespread radiation experiments on unknowing, unconsenting citizens, Faden suggested that the DOE needed an independent investigation, and it should not be limited to that department alone.  Secretary of Energy Hazel O’Leary and President Bill Clinton agreed, and asked Faden to lead the investigation as chair of the White House Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE).  Faden assembled her ideal interdisciplinary staff of historians, clinicians, philosophers, lawyers, and scientists who went on to work together the committee named by Pres. Clinton for 18 months before issuing its report on October 3, 1995.


On October 5, 2016, Johns Hopkins will host a day-long symposium to consider the committee’s work and its impact in the 20 years since the release of its report. Members of the ACHRE committee and staff will reflect on the seminal report, its impact since 1995 and into the future on topics including the regulation of human-subject research, considerations around remedies for past wrongs, and the use of historical information to make moral judgments about the past.


According to a New York Times story published in 1994 shortly after President Clinton established ACHRE, Faden said the most difficult task for the committee would be deciding what standard of ethics to measure the experiments against.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.