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Not all superheroes wear capes, and in the 1960s some certainly didn’t wear white coats.

The news this week has centred on a scandal surrounding key UK charities, which was brought to the attention of the world by a whistle-blower. The work of medical ethicist Maurice Pappworth, however, began before the term ‘whistle-blower’ was used in this context.

Pappworth’s controversial book ‘Human Guinea Pigs: Experimentation on Man’ published in 1967, uncovered the terrible treatment faced by patients at the hands of doctors who saw them as little more than lab rats.

Pappworth reported that this shocking behaviour was demonstrated, not only by researchers in hospitals, but also by doctors in other facilities, including: jails, orphanages and psychiatric units. Bravely, Pappworth even named those individuals and institutions involved, leading to the issue being raised in Parliament. ‘Human Guinea Pigs’ raised the point that needless deaths were often caused by the unnecessary treatments patients were subjected too. The headlines at the time were filled with Pappworth’s astonishing comparison of the medical profession to that of Nazi death camps. By speaking out and writing a sensational book, Pappworth was ostracised by the rest of the medical establishment and was labelled as a ‘pestilential nuisance’ in his obituary.

A recent biographical novel written by Pappworth’s daughter on her death bed and published last month, aimed to restore Pappworth to his rightful place in the medical community and the history of Medicine.

Students wishing to study Medicine should examine the ethics of early medical research with human patients. Future Historians should investigate how our perception of certain historical figures can change over time. Philosophy and Theology students may wish to study the moral values involved to producing pioneering medicine.

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