Holding Scientists and Medical Researchers Accountable for Unethical Human Testing, Part 2: Roberts Bartholow and the Brain Invaders

Dr. Roberts Bartholow used electricity to experiment on the brain.
After the Civil War Roberts Bartholow probed an Irish servant woman’s brain with electrodes in the name of medical research. She died as a result. (Public domain image/Wikimedia Commons.)

This series explores the experiments conducted on Americans without their full knowledge or consent from the mid-19th Century to today. Testing on animals garners more outcry and more legal protection than testing on human beings. Subjects have ranged from military members and prisoners to men, women, and children in populations marginalized by race or metal incapacity. In a few instances, such as observing syphilis in Alabaman sharecroppers without ever allowing them access to the cure, testing atomic weapons over the Marshall Islands and its people, or trying to mind-control soldiers and citizens through all types of physical and emotional abuse, Congressional committees concluded that experimenting on humans without securing their fully informed consent was wrong. So, the government-backed scientists and medical researchers did what they always do when light is shined on their transgressions: they hid their activities by changing agency names, outsourcing projects to non-government organizations, or calling the project something else. Not even a scapegoat was offered to assuage public disapproval. Anyone who experiments on a human without their consent, including injecting them with a gene-altering vaccine, needs to be arrested and tried for medical battery and crimes against humanity.

We start with history, because it always repeats itself and offers clear road marks to what is happening today. Here’s what we’ve covered so far:

Holding Scientists and Medical Researchers Accountable for Unethical Human Testing, Part 1: J. Marion Sims, The Father of Gynecology

Today we delve into the violators of “the sacred organ,” the brain. Roberts Bartholow (1831-1904) earned his medical degree from the University of Maryland in Baltimore, and worked in that city’s hospitals and clinics before he enlisted in the Army. We all have MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) horror stories, and we can thank this guy for establishing the qualification standards for recruits. Now we know who to thank for the ball-dragging duck walks. Who needs paper briefs? Seriously, I’m curious as to why this guy was shipped to Fort Union in New Mexico when there was a Civil War going on east of Mississippi. Didn’t they need doctors? In any event, in 1862 Bartholow married and left the service for medical research at Medical College of Ohio.

Bartholow was exposed to allopathic (science-based, modern), homeopathic (alternative pseudoscience that uses the hair-of-the-dog principle to jump-start the body’s immune system to fix its own problems), and eclectic (herbal, non-invasive) medical thought through his work as a physician in Cincinnati, and he extracted elements of each for use in his own research. He firmly believed that experiments on live animals revealed more than simply observing and comparing the cases of different human patients. This was called vivisectionism, and the anti-vivisectionists of the day were as vocal and militant as the animal rights activists are today. Bartholow was on their target list early. [To clarify, all humans want animals to be well cared for and treated humanely; that is called “animal welfare.” “Animal rights” is something altogether different and something that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks. The intent of animal rights activists is for animals to be on an equal legal footing with humans so they can inherit money, enter contracts, and be “free” of any and all human interaction. #nopets #nomeat #noleather]

Bartholow paved the way for medical research going forward by applying medicine and research as a therapeutic method, which is ironic since his most notorious act was applying research without the intent of treating. Still, he was a medical leader at the Good Samaritan Hospital, teaching students, holding chairmanships, and maintaining a close association with the American Neurological Association. His primary neurological study was garnered through probing the brain with electrodes. Previous experiments by Gustav Fritsch, a German anatomist, and Eduard Hitzig, a German-Jewish neurologist and neuropsychiatrist, mapped what areas of the brain controlled what areas of the body by experimenting on live animals, mostly dogs. Bartholow confirmed their research with his experiments on Marte (Mary) Rafferty, a 30-year-old Irish servant woman.

Bartholow used electricity in his practice for polyps, tumors, aneurysms, and neuropathy. Faradic (alternating) and galvanic (direct) current were both used. Following in the footsteps of David Ferrier, a Scottish neurologist and psychologist who was the first scientist to be tried under the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1876, Bartholow wanted to see if the mapping of human brains corresponded with the mapping of animal brains. He did this by using a pair of electrolytic needles inserted into the dura mater surrounding the brain and underlying tissue and applying low levels of electric current. Rafferty was admitted into Good Samaritan Hospital with a 2-inch-diameter hole in her skull from a cancerous ulcer. Bartholow believed the condition was fatal and had no intention of treating her. She gave her consent to his electric probing of her brain, but even Bartholow noted that she was feeble-minded. Of course, she did have a brain tumor, so perhaps she had reason to be off her game.

At first, she registered no reaction, but when Bartholow upped the current, she complained of great pain. She had seizures, turned blue in the lips, foamed at the mouth, went into a coma, but Bartholow noted how her arms reached out as if to grab something, which correlated with prior findings by the German scientists. Rafferty went into a coma and awoke three days later only to die the same day of a massive seizure. Bartholow conducted an autopsy and the brain showed that where he had implanted the needles, liquified cerebral matter filled the wound tracks, which indicated that the body had begun to repair the nervous system. In other words, the needles caused severe damage. Bartholow’s paper, “Experimental Investigations into the Function of the Human Brain,” was released in 1874. Farrier gave the report a thumbs-up. Critics professionally eviscerated the man for thinking consent from a mentally impaired person gave him permission to cause grave bodily harm without even the intention of trying to heal her condition. He continued to claim that it wasn’t his experiment that killed her, but the cancer. The American Medical Association censured him, but true to those in every profession who do wrong, he failed upward. His career didn’t suffer in the least.

The American Medical Association banned human experimentation that…wait for it…didn’t include some form of life-saving measure. In other words, if you’re going to experiment on people without them knowing what’s truly going on, then have the decency to make like you’re treating them. See what they did there? Carry on. Just don’t get caught next time.

There has been so much testing on humans in this country, it’s a challenge to approach the coverage in a logical manner. What is evident is that what used to be known as the medical hub of the country, Boston, Massachusetts, also is proving to be the hub for unethical research and medical practices. In fact, the Wuhan flu broke out on January 7, less than a week later Moderna had come up with a proposed sequence of an mRNA vaccine, and by February 24, vials were shipping out from a plant in Norwood, Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology conducted radiation testing on developmentally challenged boys from the Fernald School in Waltham, Massachusetts. And, in the late 1890s at Children’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, Arthur Wentworth was spinal tapping babies to see if it was dangerous. Just how much unethical medical testing on humans is going on in the Bay State, anyway? Join us next time for another episode of “the mad scientist isn’t just a stereotype.” Human testing must stop, and we’re going to have to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

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