Radiation Project Head Defends Experiments on Cancer Patients

From Associated Press

Pentagon funding of an experimental radiation project had no bearing on the quality of treatment given cancer patients, the head of the Cold War project told a House subcommittee Monday.

And its purpose was not solely to provide the Defense Department with information on how nuclear warfare could affect soldiers in battle, Dr. Eugene Saenger testified in his first public comments since the documents were released earlier this year.

The program involved 88 cancer patients, most of them poor or black, who received radiation at Cincinnati General Hospital between 1960 and 1971.

Saenger, a retired University of Cincinnati radiology professor, rebutted allegations that his use of whole-body radiation served no medical purpose, as families of some patients have alleged.


“One purpose of the study was the treatment of patients with advanced cancer for whom the goal was the relief of pain, shrinkage of cancer and improvement of well-being,” Saenger told the administrative law subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee, which recommends reparations for people wrongly injured by the government.

“A second purpose was to study the systemic effect of radiation on the patient,” he said.

Critics contend tests were conducted to give the Pentagon a simple method to determine the extent of radiation exposure received by soldiers.

He said not all patients were told that the Pentagon provided funding but he said most clinical studies do not cite a funding source.


Saenger is among defendants in three class-action lawsuits filed by patients’ families. They contend that the patients suffered needlessly and that they were picked because they were poor, uneducated or black.

Some family members contend that the radiation shortened the life of patients. But Saenger said that the maximum dose given any patient was 200 rads, while similar treatment today can be more than 1,000 rads.

In Washington, D.C., documents among Energy Department records recently made public suggested that human plutonium experiments may have been more widespread in the 1940s than previously thought, with more than two dozen patients possibly involved. Among other things, the papers showed that six people drank plutonium as part of medical tests in 1946.