The Treatment

The Story of Those Who Died in the Cincinnati Radiation Tests

The Treatment

Book Pages: 376 Illustrations: 15 b&w photos Published: January 2002

Author: Martha Stephens

Activism, History > U.S. History, Medicine and Health > Public Health and Health Policy

The Treatment is the story of one tragedy of medical research that stretched over eleven years and affected the lives of hundreds of people in an Ohio city. Thirty years ago the author, then an assistant professor of English, acquired a large set of little-known medical papers at her university. These documents told a grotesque story. Cancer patients coming to the public hospital on her campus were being swept into secret experiments for the U.S. military; they were being irradiated over their whole bodies as if they were soldiers in nuclear war. Of the ninety women and men exposed to this treatment, twenty-one died within a month of their radiations.
Martha Stephens’s report on these deaths led to the halting of the tests, but local papers did not print her charges, and for many years people in Cincinnati had no way of knowing that lethal experiments had taken place there. In 1994 other military tests were brought to light, and a yellowed copy of Stephens’s original report was delivered to a television newsroom. In Ohio, major publicity ensued—at long last—and reached around the world. Stephens uncovered the names of the victims, and a legal action was filed against thirteen researchers and their institutions. A federal judge compared the deeds of the doctors to the medical crimes of the Nazis during World War II and refused to dismiss the researchers from the suit. After many bitter disputes in court, they agreed to settle the case with the families of those they had afflicted. In 1999 a memorial plaque was raised in a yard of the hospital.
Who were these doctors and why had they done as they did? Who were the people whose lives they took? Who was the reporter who could not forget the story, the young attorney who first developed the case, the judge who issued the historic ruling against the doctors? This is Stephens’s moving account of all that transpired in these lives and her own during this epic battle between medicine and human rights.


“[The Treatment] provides a shocking example of why we must remain diligent in our review of medical research. Recommended for all collections.” — Library Journal

“[E]ffectively conveys the tragic story of the subjects and their families. Her personal struggle to get the story out and to serve as a patients’ advocate is inspiring and courageous.” — Kenneth L. Mossman , JAMA

“[E]xtremely well written . . . . [Stephens] is such a good writer and . . . she has such fine skills at marshalling facts and details . . . . It’s a terrible story, but one that needed to be told.” — T. C. Samford , Ohioana Quarterly

“This shameful episode makes for both fascinating and troubling reading. . . . The Treatment belongs on the desk of every legislator, university president and research scientist in the country. It stands as another stark reminder of the harm that can be wrought in the interest of national security or in the name of medical science.” — Midwest Book Review

“Martha Stephens’ The Treatment exemplifies what a work of non-fiction should accomplish. . . . She brings considerable passion and personality to the muckraking task of her own design . . . . Stephens writes with refreshing clarity and verve, trading the clever glibness that characterizes so many pseudo-books for a forthright tone that places her subjects ahead of herself. . . . Stephens, sadly, must end her book with an eloquent, hypothetical statement that someday might go on a public memorial to the treatment’s victims. Should justice ever get a second chance, I hope Cincinnati listens.” — James McWilliams , Texas Observer

"[A] compelling and disturbing story. . . . [I]ts publication is a testimony to Stephens's perseverance as she struggled to tell the full saga, despite serious vision problems that made both research and writing difficult." — Melba Porter Hay , Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"[A] moving account of all that transpired during this epic battle between medicine and human rights." — Doctors for Global Health Newsletter

"[Stephens] was among the first faculty members at the university to become concerned about the research; she had access to some of the most important records; and she moved energetically and persistently to bring the events to public attention. Although she is not a scientist or an expert in radiation, the medical and scientific facts are within her grasp. Her book describes the difficulty of capturing the attention of the press, the resistance of the university to pressure from junior faculty members, the inadequacy of the ostensible process of consent for the human subjects, the long and frustrating class-action lawsuit, and most moving of all, the way sin which the research affected the lives of the subjects and their families." — David J. Rothman , New England Journal of Medicine

"Martha Stephens’s The Treatment is a comprehensive and powerful account of one of the most important radiation experiments performed on unsuspecting civilians in post-World War II America." — Gerald Markowitz , Journal of American History

"Readers interested in education will find the book valuable because the author highlights the importance of civil vigilance inside an educational institution." — Claudia Wassmann , History of Education Quarterly

"Stephens' narrative is passionate and her investigation insistent. . . . [She] reminds us of the importance of the participants, their families, and loved ones, and the bystanders who are brought into and affected by the action in unusual and important ways." — Jeremy Sugarman, Duke Magazine

"The message of this book for researchers, practitioners, and the patient/public is clear. Patients and the public need to be better informed about clinical trial research. Researchers and practitioners need to make sure patients are better informed and fully understand what they are agreeing to take part in and the risks involved. Family members must be included. Informed consents also need to be understandable to participants."

— Electra D. Paskett , Social Science & Medicine

"This book caught my eye at our town library, and I’m glad it did! . . . I highly recommend this book to those who care to learn more about such a [deliberately] hidden segment of this country’s history! Stephens does a great job of exposing what was hidden and perhaps could have been prevented altogether if more of our society was oh…a bit more democratic, open, and honest." — Elaine Hills , Reading On The Web

“Stephens is a skilled investigative journalist, piecing together medical records, Pentagon reports, and firsthand interviews to weave a damning and unforgettable picture of what happened in the basement of Cincinnati General Hospital.” — Eileen Welsome, author of The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War

“Read this book not only to grasp the horror of what official medicine did to ninety families, but also for the fuel you need to fight such outrageous injustices in our midst.” — Jim Hightower

“Stephens tells her story in a clear and sure voice, forging a compelling narrative that presents this tragedy in a very human and accessible manner.” — George Annas, author of Standard of Care: The Law of American Bioethics

An invaluable, outstanding work that will endure to enhance respect for informed consent in human research, as hope for vigilant advocates of human rights, and as a case study of how history unfolds.” — Carl Gandola, MD, Cincinnati, Ohio


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Price: $44.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Martha Stephens was for many years Professor of English at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of The Question of Flannery O’Connor, the novels Cast a Wistful Eye and Children of the World. An activist for many years, Stephens was the first to break the story of this scandalous project and continues to work for justice for the victims and their families.

Table of Contents Back to Top


Part One: The Story of the Press and the Public Campaign

1. The First Public Knowledge of the Tests

2. 1994 and a Secret Drawer Reopened

3. The Press in Full Flower

4. African Americans Lost and Found

5. The Back Files

6. Testimonies

7. Author’s Intermezzo

Part Two: The Medical Story

8. The Mother Without a Name

9. The Final Years

10. The Experiments Must Cease

Part Three: The Legal Story

11. A Civil Action

12. An Angry Judge

13. The Case Closed

Appendix 1. Table of Cincinnati Radiations

Appendix 2. Hearing Testimony of Eugene Saenger



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Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2811-7
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