Lessons from History: Looking to the Future
IntroductionOn January 15, 1994, President Clinton created the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments in response to his concern about the growing number of reports describing possibly unethical conduct of the U.S. government, and institutions funded by the government, in the use of, or exposure to, ionizing radiation in human beings at the height of the Cold War. He directed us to uncover the history of human radiation experiments and intentional environmental releases of radiation; to identify the ethical and scientific standards for evaluating these events; and to make recommendations to ensure that whatever wrongdoing may have occurred in the past cannot be repeated.
The Advisory Committee is composed of fourteen members: a citizen representative and thirteen experts in bioethics, radiation oncology and biology, epidemiology and statistics, public health, history of science and medicine, nuclear medicine, and law. We report to a Cabinet-level group convened by the President (the Human Radiation Interagency Working Group), whose members are the secretaries of defense, energy, health and human services, and veterans affairs; the attorney general; the administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the director of the Central Intelligence Agency; and the director of the Office of Management and Budget.
On April 21, 1994, at the end of the first day of our opening meeting, President Clinton invited us to the White House to personally communicate his commitment to the process we were about to undertake. He urged us to be fair, thorough, and unafraid to shine the light of truth on this hidden and poorly understood aspect of our nation's past. Our most important task, he said, was to tell the full story to the American public. At the same time, we were also to examine the present, to determine how the conduct of human radiation research today compares with that of the past and to assess whether, in the light of this inquiry, changes need to be made in the policies of the federal government to better protect the American people. This report and the accompanying supplemental volumes constitute the Committee's attempt to tell the story of the past and to report on our inquiry into the present.