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Orphans Used in Secret Basement Medical Experiments Backed by CIA

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During experiments meant to reveal psychopathic traits and map out the link between schizophrenia and heredity, innocent orphans who survived World War II had electrodes attached to their small bodies and had to listen to loud, shrill noises. According to experts, this violates the Allies Nuremberg Code of 1947 that introduced ethical restrictions for experiments on humans.

Several hundred Danish orphans have been unknowingly used in experiments backed by the CIA; Danish Radio has reported in a new documentary called ‘The Search for Myself’.

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Overall, the studies, beginning in the early 1960s and meant to investigate a link between heredity and environment in the development of schizophrenia, involved 311 Danish children. The examinations took place in a subterranean basement at the Municipal Hospital in Copenhagen. Many of the orphans of the war were adopted or lived in nearby orphanages, Danish Radio reported.

Filmmaker Per Wennick, who participated in these experiments as a child, recalls being placed in a chair, getting electrodes attached to his arms, legs, and chest around the heart and having to listen to loud, shrill noises. The test was meant to reveal whether a child had psychopathic traits.

‘It was very uncomfortable’, Wennick told Danish Radio. ‘And it’s not just my story, it’s the story of many children’. He and presumably other children were promised ‘something funny’ before being taken to hospital. ‘I think this is a violation of my rights as a citizen in this society. I find it so strange that some people should know more about me than I myself have been aware of. The children weren’t told what research they were involved in, not even after the experiment ended.

According to historian, PhD, and museum inspector at the Danish Welfare Museum, Jacob Knage Rasmussen, it is the first documented case of children under special care having been used for regular research experiments in Denmark.

‘I do not know of similar attempts, neither in Denmark nor in Scandinavia. It is appalling information that contradicts the Nuremberg Code of 1947, which after World War II was to set some ethical restrictions for experiments on humans. Among other things, informed consent was introduced, which today is central to the world of research’, Knage Rasmussen told Danish Radio. He emphasised the vulnerability of the group in the custody of the state, who had nobody to complain to.

Danish Radio accused US psychologist Zarnoff A. Mednick, then a professor at the University of Michigan, of the idea behind the research project. Mednick was interested in what exactly distinguishes schizophrenic patients from patients with other disorders and healthy people. Unable to find a suitable study group in the US, he sought out Fini Schulsinger, a Danish professor at the Municipal Hospital. Together, the two sinister scientists established a decades-long Danish-US research collaboration on Danish soil.

According to Wennick and the National Archives, the research project was co-financed by the US health service. In the first year alone, the project was supported with what today corresponds to DKK 4.6 million ($700,000). Furthermore, it received funding from the Human Ecology Fund, which operated on behalf of the CIA.

In 1977, the experiment resulted in a doctoral dissertation by Danish psychiatrist Fini Schulsinger called ‘Studies to shed light on the connection between heredity and environment in psychiatry’.

Per Wennick, he managed to locate the research material in 36 boxes at the Psychiatric Centre Glostrup in Hvidovre, but the centre had already started to shred the data to total destruction to bury the evidence, sparking criticism.

Kent Kristensen, associate professor of Health Law at the University of Southern Denmark, ventured that shredding, in this case, constitutes a violation of the law. Historian Jacob Knage Rasmussen emphasised that it deprived the victims of reclaiming their past.

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