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Operation Whitecoat

operation white coat, operation white coats
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, human use research for biodefense purposes is still conducted at the US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases USAMRIID at Fort Detrick and at other government and civilian research institutes However, these post-Whitecoat 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

A new documentary film, OPERATION WHITECOAT, produced and directed by the former Chairman, Department of Military Strategy and Operations at the National War College, was released on June 1, 2017 This film provides the definitive history of OPERATION WHITECOAT http://operationwhitecoatmoviecom

Adventist Volunteers Lauded on "Operation Whitecoat" Anniversary - Adventist News Network O'Neal, Glenn December 19, 2001 "The risks of Operation Whitecoat" USA Today Subscription required help 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" "The Operation Whitecoat Story"


  • 1 History
    • 11 Results
    • 12 Discontinuation
  • 2 Legacy
    • 21 US GAO report
    • 22 Possible long-term health effects
  • 3 Adventists and Operation Whitecoat
    • 31 Adventist view of military service
  • 4 See also
  • 5 Notes
  • 6 External links


Over the course of the 19-year program, more than 2,300 US Army soldiers, many of whom were trained medics while some volunteered immediately after basic training for conscientious objectors at Ft Sam Houston, TX - therefore before they began their medic training The near certainty of being assigned as a combat medic in Vietnam helped some choose instead to remain in the USA - with the Whitecoat program , contributed to the Whitecoat experiments by allowing themselves to be infected with bacteria tularemia or Q fever that were considered likely choices for a biological attack The goal was to determine dose response for these agents The volunteers were then treated with antibiotics to cure the infections Some volunteers, under experimental protocol, were also given investigational vaccines for Q fever and tularemia, as well as for yellow fever, Rift Valley fever, hepatitis A, Yersinia pestis plague, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis and other diseases1 Some soldiers were given two weeks of leave in exchange for being used as a test subject These experiments took place at Fort Detrick which is a US Army research installation in Frederick, Maryland2

The volunteers were allowed to consult with outside sources, such as family and clergy members, before deciding to participate The participants were required to sign consent forms after discussing the risks and treatments with a medical officer Of the soldiers who were approached about participating, 20% declined3


Many of the vaccines that protect against biowarfare agents were first tested on humans in Operation Whitecoat4

According to USAMRIID, the Whitecoat operation contributed to vaccines approved by the US Food and Drug Administration FDA for yellow fever and hepatitis, and investigational drugs for Q fever, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, Rift Valley fever, and tularemia USAMRIID also states that Operation Whitecoat helped develop biological safety equipment, including hooded safety cabinets, decontamination procedures, fermentors, incubators, centrifuges, and particle sizers5


Operation Whitecoat came to an end in 1973 when the draft for the US military ended and thus no more conscientious objectors were to be conscripted


US GAO reportedit

The United States Government Accountability Office issued a report on September 28, 1994, which stated that between 1940 and 1974, the United States Department of Defense and other national security agencies studied hundreds of thousands of human subjects in tests and experiments involving hazardous substances

A quotation from the study:

Many experiments that tested various biological agents on human subjects, referred to as Operation Whitecoat, were carried out at Fort Detrick, Maryland, in the 1950s The human subjects originally consisted of volunteer enlisted men However, after the enlisted men staged a sitdown strike to obtain more information about the dangers of the biological tests, Seventh-day Adventists who were conscientious objectors were recruited for the studies6

Possible long-term health effectsedit

No Whitecoats died during the test period1 The Army has addresses for only 1000 of the 2300 people known to have volunteered4 Only about 500 23% of the Whitecoats have been surveyed, and the military chose not to fund blood tests1 A handful of respondents claim to have lingering health effects,4 and at least one subject claims to have serious health problems as a result of the experiments1

In 2005, an assessment of health status among the Project Whitecoat research volunteers was published7 It reflected the self-reported, current health status among 358 "exposed" individuals and 164 unexposed “control” subjects and found no conclusive evidence that receipt of investigational agents was related to any adverse health outcomes No differences in current overall health, current exercise levels, self-reported symptoms, and self-reported medical conditions were seen between the study groups However, possible associations were seen between exposure to antibiotics or other biological agents and self-reported asthma, as well as between receipt of tularemia vaccines and self-reported asthma and increased frequency/severity of headaches The size of the study population was judged to be insufficient to assert with confidence that the statistical associations with asthma and headaches were real8

Adventists and Operation Whitecoatedit

Adventist view of military serviceedit

The Seventh-day Adventist Church's relationship to government military activity has been supportive but noncombative In 1936, the SDA Church established the Medical Cadet Corps Training Program This allowed Adventists to remain noncombatant but positive toward the war effort Sabbath observance remained a concern for the drafted members of the church Adventist Conscientious Objector perspective differed from the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors, NISBCO In 1967, Adventists withdrew from NISBCO because that organization opposed conscription According to Bull and Lockhart, Operation Whitecoat, and the earlier established Medical Corps, enabled Adventists to participate in the armed services without violating their Sabbath principles9

See alsoedit

  • Human experimentation in the United States
  • US Senate Report on chemical weapons
  • Project SHAD
  • US Biological Weapon Testing


  1. ^ a b c d "Operation Whitecoat" PBS Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly 2003-09-24 Retrieved 2007-03-09 
  2. ^ "Hidden history of US germ testing" BBC 2006-02-13 Retrieved 2010-01-03 
  3. ^ a b c Snyder, David; staff researcher Bobbye Pratt 2003-05-06 "The Front Lines of Biowarfare" Washington Post Retrieved 2007-03-16 
  4. ^ Linden, Caree June 2005 "USAMRIID Celebrates 50 Years of Science" US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases Archived from the original on November 12, 2005 Retrieved 2007-03-16 
  5. ^ "Staff Report prepared for the committee on veterans' affairs December 8, 1994 John D Rockefeller IV, West Virginia, Chairman" Retrieved 2006-07-30 
  6. ^ Pittman PR, et al 2005, “An assessment of health status among medical research volunteers who served in the Project Whitecoat program at Fort Detrick, Maryland” ; Mil Med March issue; 1703:183-7
  7. ^ Pittman 2005, Op cit
  8. ^ Bull, Malcolm; Lockhart, Keith 2007 Seeking a Sanctuary: Seventh-day Adventism and the American Dream 2nd ed Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press p 188 ISBN 978-0-253-34764-0 

External linksedit

OPERATION WHITECOAT 2017 http://operationwhitecoatmoviecom

  • Adventist Volunteers Lauded on "Operation Whitecoat" Anniversary - Adventist News Network
  • O'Neal, Glenn December 19, 2001 "The risks of Operation Whitecoat" USA Today Subscription required help 
  • 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"
  • "The Operation Whitecoat Story"

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