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Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study

Updated on July 31, 2014
Malaria is spread by mosquitoes.
Malaria is spread by mosquitoes. | Source

What is the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study?

The Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study was conducted by the Department of Medicine in the 1940s at the University of Chicago. The study's purpose was to study the effects of malaria in order to test antimalarial drugs to be used by the United States military during World War II. The subjects of the study were prisoners of Stateville Penitentiary near Joliet, Illinois.

Symptoms of Malaria by area of body
Symptoms of Malaria by area of body | Source

What is Malaria?

Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that is infectious. It is transmitted by a bite from an infected female mosquito. This introduces the organisms (protozoans) into the now infected person's circulatory system. The parasite travels through the blood to the liver where it matures and reproduces.

The parasites enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells where they multiply. The red blood cells will break open 48 to 72 hours and infect more red blood cells.

Symptoms of malaria are bloody stools, chills, coma, convulsion, fever, headache, jaundice, muscle pain, nausea, sweating, vomiting, and anemia.

What Happened During the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study?

Prisoners of Stateville Penitentiary were asked to volunteer themselves for malaria research. In exchange, these prisoners could receive early parole and their sentence would be shortened. Thus, 441 prisoners volunteered their services. These volunteers were white males in good physical health. Almost all of the men were between 21 and 40. In order for the inmates to volunteer, it was required that their time in the penitentiary was 18 months or longer. Only inmates who had no possible chance of previous exposure to malaria were chosen as to minimize possible immunity.

At the start of the study, doctors bred mosquitoes. For the study, Anopheles quadrimaculatus mosquitoes were bred. Next, the mosquitoes were given plasmodium vivax malaria which was taken from a military patient.

Each prisoner received mosquito bites from ten infected mosquitoes. Volunteers were also recruited to administer the drugs to be tested. Every four hours, the infected prisoners were given gel capsules with the drugs for six days after they were infected.

After eight days, observations occurred and blood was drawn daily. If fever appeared, the volunteer in question was hospitalized and were observed closer. The volunteers who were hospitalized were observed by:

  • Having their temperature taken rectally and pulse and respirations recorded every four hours. If their temperature was above 101 degrees Fahrenheit, this was done every 30 minutes.
  • Blood pressure was taken every day.
  • Total daily fluid intake and urine volume was recorded.
  • A urinalysis was done daily.

Ethical Issues of the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study

One of the biggest ethical issues was the fact that the experiment used prison inmates as their test subjects. It is said that, although prisoners were volunteers of the study, prisoners were urged to participate.

The Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study raised questions about the nature of informed consent as well as the regulation of human subject research. Soon after the study ended, the Nuremberg Code was adopted.

Nathan Leopold, a volunteer of the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study and author of "Life Plus 99 Years"
Nathan Leopold, a volunteer of the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study and author of "Life Plus 99 Years" | Source

Results of the Stateville Penitentiary Malaria Study

By the end of the study, one prisoner had died by heart attack after suffering through several rounds of fever, although researchers insist that this death had nothing to do to the study.

Do you think prisoners should be forced to 'volunteer' for human experimentation?

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Prisoner Experimentation

Experimentation on prisoners without their consent was a problem for a while in the United States. With the addition of Article 46 in the Common Rule, prisoners can no longer be included in human subjects research when the research involves no more than a minimal risk of harm.

Furthermore, although prisoners can consent, due to their dependent status and incentives that investigators can offer (parole, phone calls, or objects that are normally unavailable to prisoners) their consent can arguably not be completely voluntary.

Prisoner experimentation has sparked many debates on whether it is ethical, allowed, or should be a requirement in jail.


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    • profile image

      ddstinky 2 years ago

      Only if they are willing to do the experiment instead of being forced

    • LagunaAlkaline profile image

      Amanda 3 years ago from Camas, WA

      @LailaK, thank you for taking the time to read my hub! I agree, it was unethical that they made the prisoners 'volunteer' through an offer they couldn't refuse, but the information gained from this study was very helpful! If only they could have gone about it a better way.

    • LailaK profile image

      LailaK 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very very interesting study you present here! Thank you for taking the time to write about it. It is certainly unethical that they kind of forced the prisoners to volunteer by giving them the advantage of a shorter sentence. However, I think that this study, although unethical, it presented valuable information. Voted up!


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