Between 1954 and 1973, 522 conscientious objectors volunteered as human test subjects in the US Army’s biological weapons defense program. Conscientious objectors are people whose religious beliefs forbid them from participating in war. In the United States, most of them our Christians, but they can be of any religion, or of no religion at all. These men believed so firmly that killing people was wrong, that they decided to risk their lives as medical experiments rather than be drafted as a soldier.
Under Project Whitecoat, the Seventh Day Adventist Church made special arrangements with Army Surgeon General so that members could avoid conscription into a combat role. Adventists are a one of the peace churches. They believe that Jesus called all men to love each other unconditionally, and that military service is not compatible with this obligation. Instead, they seek alternative ways to serve their country. In this case, by being exposed to biological weapons.
The goal of Project Whitecoat was “to use human volunteers in medical studies to evaluate the effect of certain biological pathogens upon humans in an effort to determine the vulnerability to attack with biological agents.” These human subjects participated in “studies involving exposure to live agents, receipt of investigational vaccines, and studies of metabolic and psychological effects of environmental- and infection-induced stress.”
According to a GAO report:
The human subjects originally consisted of volunteer enlisted men. However, after the enlisted men staged a sitdown strike to obtain more information about the dangers of the biological tests, Seventh-day Adventists who were conscientious objectors were recruited for the studies.
The study helped develop medical defenses against biological warfare. It resulted in techniques for rapid diagnosis, better cures for disease, better preventative medicine, and better vaccines.
These men deserve our undying respect and admiration. As John F. Kennedy said,
To find out more, read the Army’s official medical report