Self-Sacrifice in Medical Experimentation: A Critical Analysis of the Teaching of Pope Pius XII and "Traditional" Catholic Authors on the Moral Limits to Non-Therapeutic Medical Experimentation on Healthy, Adult, Living Subjects
Date of Award
Dissertation - Restricted
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
On two occasions, Pope Pius XII delivered allocutions in which he spoke in detail on the morality of medical experimentation on living human subjects. In each of these addresses Pius reached the conclusion that1 man does nut possess the right to engage in experiments in which there is a serious danger of either mutilation or death. This teaching was analyzed and accepted by the traditional Catholic authors who treated the subject of medical experimentation.
A therapeutic medical experiment is a procedure tried on a patient in an attempt to help him. When all usual remedies fail, a physician may turn to an untried,or to an insufficiently tried, medical procedure if he thinks that this procedure may be of benefit. to the patient. The first-kidney transplant, for example, was experimental. Animal experiments had indicated that it could possibly work on humans. However, somebody had to be first. Since what is successful in one species of animals need not be successful in a second, the physician did not know if the transplant would take. The transplant was thus an experiment. However, since it was performed in an attempt to extend the patient's life, it was likewise therapy. It was a therapeutic experiment.
A non-therapeutic experiment is a procedure performed solely for the advancement of science. It is not therapeutic for the subject of the experiment. A nontherapeutic experiment is either performed on a healthy subject, or, if performed on a patient, it is performed either without reference to his disease or without the possibility of benefit to him. Healthy prisoners, for example, who volunteer to take untested drugs in an attempt to determine side effects or tolerable dosages are subjects in a non-therapeutic medical experiment. The taking of the drugs does not benefit them.
It is the purpose of this dissertation to demonstrate that:
(a) The teaching of Pius, and the traditional authors, applies in one way to therapeutic medical experiments. There may be circumstances in which one may licitly risk either mutilation or death in therapeutic medical experiments.
(b) This traditional teaching applies in a different manner to non-therapeutic medical experiments. Man may never licitly take a real and "direct" risk of either mutilation or death in ·a non-therapeutic medical experiment. No set of circumstances can justify such a risk.
(c) This teaching, in reference to non-therapeutic medical experimentation, allow exceptions to the prima facie prohibition. At times, man may licitly take a real and ''indirect" risk of either mutilation or death in a nontherapeutic medical experiment. There may be circumstances that can justify the taking of such a risk.
(d) The traditional teaching is too restrictive. It is a historically conditioned response to excessive individualism and to totalitarianism. It presupposes an excessively juridic notion of God's dominion over human life and a restrictive and physical understanding of the principle of the double effect and an excessively individualistic understanding of the principle of totality.
(e) A more scripturally grounded notion of God's dominion over human life, a less restrictive understanding of the principle of the double effect, and an altruistic understanding of totality will permit the conclusion to be reached that man may licitly take real and even "direct" risks of either mutilation or death for a proportionate reason. There may be circumstances in which the advancement of medical science will justify the taking of such a risk even in a non-therapeutic medical experiment.