Ethical Implications of Operation Delirium

Ethical Implications of Operation Delirium



Ethical Implications of Operation Delirium

In overview, Operation Delirium comprised a secret chemical weapons testing scheme operated by the United States Army at some point in the Cold War. In the 1950s and the 1960s, military physicians evaluated the impacts of LSD, nerve gas, Sarin gas, and other hazardous psychoactive substances on 5000 Americans soldiers at the Chesapeake Bay in the state of Maryland. The purpose of the test was to gauge the impacts of the drugs on the brains of the soldiers and their behavioral patterns as well. As expected, the test subjects experienced a variety of signs and symptoms due to consumption and inhalation of the respective drugs.  Accordingly, the patients experienced depression, gaiety, and indolence. Despite the effects of the drugs on the soldiers and the ethical concerns surrounding the use of human beings as test subjects, there were considerable ethical implications related to the case at the time.

One of the first ethical implications involves informed consent. This comprises the process involved in gaining permission prior to the management of a healthcare intervention on an individual. Before carrying out an experiment on individuals, it is usually required for the researchers to ensure that their participants are well informed before engagement into the test. In the context of Operation Delirium, the soldiers actually agreed to be included within the experiment. However, this is only part of the consent. Accordingly, the respective party was not fully informed of the objective of the test and reasons for participation. In this respect, the soldiers took part in the operation without being aware of the gases and psychoactive substances that they were being exposed to at the point.

The implication of informed consent has raised a significant ethical concern in relation to Operation Delirium. Accordingly, the soldiers signed consent forms in order to become involved in the respective experiments. Despite this, they lacked any pertinent information concerning the study itself. Hence, in addition to the issue of informed consent, another ethical implication that originated from Operation Delirium involves the right to refuse treatment. Due to the lack of information regarding the test, the soldiers were unable to reach to any decision concerning refusing or gaining treatment. In this context, they lacked the right to refuse participation in the experiment. Additionally, as military personnel, the soldiers were unable to excuse themselves from the consent forms they had already signed.

Aside from the ethical implications involving informed consent and the right to refuse treatment, surrendering common rights of autonomy constitutes another principled inference derived from Operation Delirium. The fact that the soldiers were incapable of refusing the tests illustrates the extent to which soldiers lack basic rights of sovereignty with respect to their bodies. The idea that joining the army or the military involves surrendering basic autonomy privileges seems unreasonable. In addition, it provides a partition for conducting the type of unprincipled studies that ethics in research has evolved in order to protect individuals involved in examinations and research-based evaluations.  

In conclusion, Operation Delirium depicts a variety of ethical concerns based on the context of the soldiers and the rules guiding experimentation on human test subjects. In this case, considerable ethical implications were evident. Foremost, the informed consent was a significant issue. Accordingly, the soldiers taking part in the test were not informed of the objective of the experiment and the reasons for it. As such, most of them experienced various symptoms, which would later impose damaging effects on the individuals’ physical and mental psyche. Other ethical implications comprised the right to refuse treatment and the lack of basic autonomy privileges specifically in respect to soldiers.

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