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Ethics and Editors

Am J Dis Child. 1974;127(4):471-472. doi:10.1001/archpedi.1974.02110230017001.
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It was the summer of 1943, and the staff of the St. Louis Children's Hospital were struggling with a child who had serious staphylococcal disease, including pericarditis and empyema. Sulfathiazole and surgical drainage had helped somewhat, but none of us was willing to offer a good prognosis. Then word came that a supply of a brand-new drug—penicillin—was available for clinical use. As I recall, we did tell the parents that this new and, in our hands, untried drug was being given to their child. But there was no thought of committee approval (obviously, Dr. Hartmann was completely in favor!), or of "informed consent" as we know it today. So the house staff gave 10,000 units intramuscularly every two hours around the clock (the nurses refused!), and in due course the child walked out of the hospital essentially well.

True, penicillin was known to be relatively nontoxic; it had been given


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