A Duty to Starve
Is human experimentation ethical?
"We are here because of the problem of relief feeding in general, and particularly in the war devastated areas today. Accurate scientific data on the effects of starvation is almost completely lacking, and until that data can be supplied, no really efficient program of relief can be planned or operated."
- Dr. Ancel Keys in welcoming speech to the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, 1944
In response to growing protests throughout the CPS camps for more relevant work, the government provided new opportunities in areas ranging from wildfire prevention through smoke jumping, to pioneering mental health practices, to human experimentation. These "special projects" were more meaningful to the country's war effort and to the COs who participated.
"Additional work opportunities... were gradually developed, almost always after difficult negotiations and extensive Selective Service foot-dragging."
Recruitment Flyer, Time/Life Images, 1945.
36 COs were chosen to participate though hundreds applied. Referred to as "guinea pigs" COs were ridiculed for refusing military service. Despite adversity, the COs entered initial testing, and then a 12 week control phase meant to standardize past differences in diet and exercise.
"The Minnesota Starvation Experiment," Colorado State University, 1993.
"Food became the one central and only thing in one's life. And life is pretty dull if that's the only thing."
Once rehabilitation began, men were split into 4 groups of varying caloric intakes. Initial relief quickly turned to disappointment as some COs received few additional calories compared to the starvation state. After the 12 weeks of recovery, participants were officially released from the experiment.
Special Projects for Conscious Objectors, Nebraska Studies, 1943.
One of these new opportunities was headed by Ancel Keys, a professor at the University of Minnesota. Keys studied the growing famine in war torn Europe and recognized a lack of research on starvation. In 1944 he organized the Minnesota Starvation Experiment (MNSE), providing a meaningful opportunity for COs. This experiment served as a compromise for COs, as they could serve their country in a meaningful way without killing.
Time/Life Images, 1945.
Next, they began the starvation phase, meant to mimic the diet of many Europeans during the war (low protein, high carbohydrate intake). Over these 24 weeks, their perception of body image shifted, resulting in depression and an exclusive focus on food.
"A Matter of Conscience," Bill Ganzel, 1993.
Through the Participants' Eyes
"We ought to treat our fellow human beings as ends in themselves and not as mere means or instruments for our own purposes."
“The ethical justification of biomedical research involving human subjects is the prospect of discovering new ways of benefiting people's health.”
"Why do people who were drafted go to fight wars, without escaping? Because there's a duty. It's the same kind of a thing, just a different battlefield. And from our point of view at the time, it was a battlefield consistent with what our conscience would tell us. But it was a battlefield. And battlefields are not supposed to be easy."
- Max Kampleman, Minnesota Starvation Experiment participant, 1993