Operation Whitecoat was a biodefense medical research program carried out by the United States Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland between 1954 and 1973. The program pursued medical research using volunteer enlisted personnel who were eventually nicknamed "Whitecoats". These volunteers, all conscientious objectors including many members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, were informed of the purpose and goals of each project before providing consent to participate in any project. The stated purpose of the research was to defend troops and civilians against biological weapons and it was believed that the Soviet Union was engaged in similar activities. Although the program was discontinued in 1973, similar medical research for biodefense purposes is still conducted at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick and at other government and civilian research institutes. However, these modern studies are rarely, if ever, human use challenge studies, in which a person is inoculated with a known pathogen to determine how effective an investigational treatment will be.
Over 2,300 U.S. Army soldiers, most of whom were trained medics, contributed to the experiments by allowing themselves to be infected with viruses and bacteria that were considered likely choices for a biological attack. Whitecoat volunteers were exposed to Q fever, yellow fever, Rift Valley fever, hepatitis A, Yersinia pestis (plague), tularemia (rabbit fever), and Venezuelan equine encephalitis and other diseases.
- The Living Weapon, chapter 8 about Operation Whitecoat, from the American Experience documentary video
- Adventist Volunteers Lauded on "Operation Whitecoat" Anniversary - Adventist News Network
- O'Neal, Glenn (December 19, 2001). "The risks of Operation Whitecoat" (subscription required). http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/bioterrorism/2001-12-20-whitecoat-sidebar.htm.
- Linden, Caree Vander United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases celebrates 50-year research tradition March 3, 2005 "Operation Whitecoat served as a model for the ethical use of human subjects in research"
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