DOE Shield DOE Openness: Human Radiation Experiments: Roadmap to the Project
Oral Histories
Roadmap to the Project
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Oral Histories

Pathologist Clarence Lushbaugh, M.D.


Short Biography

Upbringing, Family, University of Chicago

Early Research and Publications in Pathology

Early Days at University of Chicago and Los Alamos

Establishing Safer Radiation Limits

Move to Los Alamos

Pathology Investigations

Early Animal Studies at Los Alamos

NASA-Sponsored Studies

Primate Studies

Investigations of Radiological Accidents

Congressional Testimony on the Use of Whole Body Counting in Medical Diagnosis

Other Human Radiological Studies at Los Alamos

Move to Oak Ridge (1963)

LETBI and METBI Therapy for Lymphatic Diseases

Charges That the Oak Ridge Radiation Therapy Was Not Effective

Questioning the Propriety of NASA-Funded Studies

Radiation Treatment Patients at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge

Institutional Review Board at Oak Ridge

Controversy Over the AEC's Use of Human Subjects in Radiation Research

Interview Wrap-Up


Questioning the Propriety of NASA-Funded Studies

FISHER: Maybe today we've helped bring you back into it by asking you how things were many years ago. Some people have perhaps misinterpreted history when they have studied these projects and these programs. In particular, there's one area where you may be misinterpreted, and maybe you can help clarify this. That has to do with the involvement of NASA and whether or not funding from NASA in anyway contributed to the choice of therapy for patients. In other words, some people have either rightly or wrongly interpreted the fact that because NASA was contributing funding to the program that they were somehow able to dictate treatment levels or make medical decisions. Do you want to comment on that?
LUSHBAUGH: Everything you said isn't true. The comment is that the best physics that is concerned with space travel shows that there is a real chance of getting radiation exposure. How do you diagnose this from the ground? Say you're on earth. How do you diagnose the fact that the person is sick because he's been irradiated? How do you get treatment to him? NASA has the responsibility of doing all those things. NASA has to have the primary responsibility of investigating these problems. At the same time, you have the problem of trying to get financial support for staff that can attack these problems. You also have to have the monies that allow you to treat persons who have the problems even though they haven't gone in space. It is complicated.
FISHER: What would you say to critics who suggest that NASA had some choice in selecting either therapy levels or dose rates? What would you say to that as the physician in charge?
LUSHBAUGH: I would say that's completely wrong. NASA had certain areas that it had to fly through. It still has certain areas and problems in space. I don't think NASA can. It has to get the help that it needs to attack these problems. I think that the whole question about NASA's funding in these programs is crazy. It's like DOE not knowing what is happening to people who are in charge of the various kinds of places.
FISHER: Are you suggesting that the NASA funding was for data interpretation and to support the program, but the medical staff made the clinical decisions?
LUSHBAUGH: You say it very well. That's what I'm saying. But I say it a little.
FISHER: The reason I bring this is up is we hear people who may not know the truth or the facts, reinterpreting what you did. This is your opportunity to set things straight and to give your opinion and your interpretation of the way things really were.
LUSHBAUGH: Yes, but time flies and changes occur. You go up and down the halls here and here's a beautiful institution that's going to hell. It's going to hell, actually, because of the budget. Things are becoming expensive. You have to have budget in order to run things. You have to have people who are dedicated, people who want to do this sort of thing. You have people who have as their biggest task to get enough money [to] operate such a hospital. If you could cure the problems of radiation-induced vomiting in space, that is a big hazard. Somebody has to think about that and has to think about it in detail. Somebody has to know about how to control vomiting, how to do that in space. For instance, I was on a panel for NASA once, in which they flew gophers. Gophers died, but they died from a lesion in the lung that was showing necrosis55 that occurred at the bifurcations56 of bronchi57. I knew exactly what was the cause of this disease but nobody bought it. NASA didn't buy it. In fact, NASA didn't do anything about it. But I knew what was the problem. The problem was that in spacelessness nothing weighs anything, kernels of corn don't. When you eat something, it doesn't have any weight either. Necrosis of the bronchi was occurring in these animals because of pellets of dry food that was floating in space in the cabin they were in, and it was impacting their bronchi. But no one wanted to believe me.
FISHER: I can understand that. That's very interesting. The NASA funding helped support the project here, but they didn't really dictate therapy, did they?
SIPE: I think it's an insult also to physicians, to people involved in research. Everybody has their own ideas, their strong ideas. But they still have taken their oaths. I have really, and I'm not really overly wild about doctors. I even have a son-in-law that's one. He's okay. To me, it's an insult to people who have done so many good things. It's just like with your surgeons. Once there was an army surgeon in Oak Ridge Hospital and I was working in surgery. There was a man [who] had cancer of the tongue and had never been, he [the surgeon] had never done anything at all to that type of thing. He got out the book that was written by somebody who had done it 20 years before. He read a page and he cut a while and he read a page and cut a while. Somebody could have said, "Oh, my gracious. How terrible that could have been." But he was still trying to save that patient. Which he did. The man lived for a long time. The people that were here were dedicated to research and dedicated to this type of problem. How in the world they could say, "NASA is going to walk in and say, 'Now we want this many patients'"? What they would do, I don't know, but most places that money was involved in, they can draw off of what you get out of there. If ORINS irradiated patients from 50 R to 250 R, all of the data is there anyway, so they could take what they wanted. It wasn't that the patients were done for NASA or for some doctor somewhere is interested in such and such or a medical for your chemotherapy. There was not any trials on that type of thing. The treatments that were done here were strictly for patients. A lot of studies came in. St. Jude was interested. M.D. Anderson, City of Hope, just so many people, doctors were studying different types of problems and they would draw off the information. They drew off each other's information. In the meantime, since NASA built that little thing up there, they were just drawing off the information. But never did I ever see anything that was ever, that could substantiate them treating patients. Dr. Lushbaugh is a radiobiologist and he's a pathologist and it would be the Dr. Andrews—not Dr. Kniseley, he was a pathologist. But there were two or three others here at that time. They would have never done anything like that. NASA never came into it. It was another treatment and a much happier way and a much less side effects way of doing it. I never saw it, and don't you think I didn't look because these people were really special people. It just didn't exist or I wouldn't have been here. Do you not agree, doctor?
LUSHBAUGH: Oh, yes, I think we're great.
SIPE: They can tell that. I think people really end up and forget. Everybody has to have a reason when somebody dies. Everybody has to have something to blame it on. There are so few blaming ORINS at this time, but that's the only ones you hear are the very few. Lawsuits. We've been giving a little isotope to see where cancer is so that they can treat it. Which was done all over the world. There's a suit on that. Another one is because of the NASA thing, which had nothing to do with it whatsoever. But the people who I know which are so many of the wives, the husbands, the children, were so grateful to have had a place that would take care and bring life back to their family. They didn't blame the cancer. They still have to have a reason, and of course with some people they would say, "Here I am, an uneducated Appalachian person, and look what they did to my family." But you have another one who's got more common sense than the whole body of Dr. Lushbaugh, maybe. They say, "Look, I may be Appalachian but they saved my life and I'm still here and you can talk to me about it." So she didn't have anybody to blame, she had somebody to plug. But the other one, they also said in this area we could draw from the non-educated. They had that. That was a big to-do. Now we had Ph.D.s here. We had some that were able to come and go right out into the plant and work.
ANDERS: So patients treated here came from a diversity of backgrounds?
SIPE: Oh, yes.

Radiation Treatment Patients at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge

ANDERS: I was curious as to how the patients who were treated here at Oak Ridge might have compared with the backgrounds of patients that you treated at Los Alamos. Was it similar in that you saw a diversity of people from a diversity of backgrounds in the community?
LUSHBAUGH: When I was in Los Alamos, Los Alamos was usually fenced. You had to have a pass to get in, so you had to have Q clearance of some sort. This was true. The best place to eat was outside the gate. The gate was a front gate where you went through and you showed your badge to get in the place. So the Los Alamos people were a little bit more specialized. But, on the other hand, you had an awful lot of people that lived down in the valley, who were uneducated, who had poor education, who had poor family backgrounds, poor genetic things. I think that in the long run, if you take the whole thing in a whole day, you found out that what you really did was, you did the best you could with what you had. You treated what you were faced with. In was not unusual for persons, for instance like myself, to go down, to go to a doctor in the little town of Espinola. He was a better surgeon than the surgeons in Los Alamos. I remember going down once to this surgeon down there to have a vasectomy. I had three children, and that was as much as I could afford, I thought, particularly at $4,200 a year. It was the best thing I ever did. But, while I was on his table and he was about to cut me, he decided, he said, "I've forgotten to have you sign my permission." He had already injected me with all sorts of drugs, opiates, etc. I would have signed anything.
SIPE: That was another thing they brought up here, too, in the days about signing permissions and how it was a possibility that these people didn't know. People just don't know unless they've sat there and listened to people. Not only did all the different physicians, the nursing staff, the other patients who were very wise, on the treatments. At any time they [the patients] could terminate, at any time.
FISHER: So it was totally voluntary?
SIPE: Totally. They were told when they were entered here, there was a "sign in" to sign to become a patient. Then at every other thing that was done. They even were told they could walk away. At every other thing they did, they signed. "We're going to give you an isotope and this is what we're going to do. Because we want to see if your malignancy has spread to such and such."
LUSHBAUGH: By the way, one of the leaders in this whole area that Ann's talking about right now was Gould Andrews. He was far and far, many years ahead of permission.
SIPE: One of the kindest human beings that watched over.
LUSHBAUGH: But he was unethical because he was using too low radiation for bone marrow irradiation. He had the right intentions.
SIPE: He worked so hard. He tried so hard.
LUSHBAUGH: He really did.

Institutional Review Board at Oak Ridge

ANDERS: Along those lines: In 1967 an Institutional Review Board met here to review the clinical research proposals in which human experimentation was involved. Do you remember why that happened in 1967?
SIPE: 1966?
ANDERS: 1966, 1967—in that time period.
SIPE: I don't know. I know I had to look that up for Dr. Frye and I don't know. I'm sorry. I didn't go into it that far. I did find the paper, but I just xeroxed it and gave it to him.
ANDERS: I was just curious.
SIPE: Did they not have great big get-togethers like that periodically, about boards coming in and your human usage, as I call it? The people call in to—they call in the Human Use Committee. Was that the foreleader of it, really?
ANDERS: That would be. And they seemed to be formed at different times, at different AEC facilities. I was wondering why this particular time.
LUSHBAUGH: The reason why humans are used and get disparaged of this thing is because a human, an ordinary person writing such a remark would think that a human being isn't very perspicacious. He thinks that a human can be tricked. Every guy sees a physician who wants a free patient; a patient who comes and pays his fee, he's very free. But now he wants him. LookChe's got a cancer, or something. Why don't we try this isotope to see whether it goes there? That isn't the way it's done. It really isn't. I can say that truthfully. One would not say that "You're a patient of mine, because I have a radioisotope in the refrigerator. I'm looking for a patient that has your disease. Why don't I try it on you?" That's being a guinea pig. That's what everybody thinks. I think that people are thinking wrong—because that's not the way it's done.
SIPE: Abbott Laboratories proved that in the thirties. Or was it the forties, Abbott Laboratories, when they started? They even had a place here, and I worked there. But they had done massive animal studies before it was ever approved to go out. Robley Evans did the thyroid. But there were so many things. The different types of things that go to different parts of the body, which had been studied and studied and studied before it was ever given here. My brother's on one now because he has no heart. He's on a study with a pharmaceutical group down in the big WashingtonCin Portland, Oregon, heart hospital. His muscles are gone, they don't know why. He'll either have a placebo or he'll have one-half of it or three-fourths or a whole. But people say, "They're experimenting on him." I said, "But it may save his life, or his son, who is now developing it." It may save that 29-year-old. To me it's not an experiment. I told somebody one day, "When you mention the word "experiment" to me, when was the last time you went to a doctor? What did he do? He gave you an antibiotic. And he said, 'If this doesn't work in two or three days, come back and we'll find something else.'" You can call that experimental.
LUSHBAUGH: Not with experimental qualities.

Controversy Over the AEC's Use of Human Subjects in Radiation Research

FISHER: Dr. Lushbaugh, one of the things that would be most useful for the Department of Energy, for historians, and for even the President's Advisory Committee would be your perspectives on the use of humans as subjects in radiation research. Your perspectives, your thoughts, your feelings. You've been involved in a number of different experiments or projects, starting with your earliest days as a new medical graduate, through your work at Los Alamos and then at Oak Ridge. Would you like to comment on human radiation experimentation, the value, the things we've learned from it, its place in future research?
LUSHBAUGH: I thought I had.
FISHER: Is there anything you'd like to comment on, in addition to what you've already said?
LUSHBAUGH: I really truthfully think that where radiation is going along, and with the machinery and the various radioactive isotopes, the various chemotherapeutic agents, and the various committees and the various controls that are in place, that a physician has a hard time these days to just do something frivolously. The physicians that I know—and I think I know a good cross section of them—are all persons who are dedicated to doing their best. I think that the everyday physician who sees an everyday patient, that he doesn't sluff them off. I know I never did. I know that none of the people I ever worked with did. We were always self critical and critical of others. And that the whole thing that thinks that somebody by the name of Hazel O'Leary, for instance, can come in now and set the scale right, this is crazy.
Anyway. I think that the average physician needs to stand up on his hind feet and say that he didn't do that. That should be enough. I know I didn't do that. The other day, wearing my blue chenille bathrobe and being fully retired, there comes a knock on the door. I'm down in the basement doing something in my shop. I come up in my bathrobe and there is a little man who wrote the Sexton case for Mother Jones. He's knocking at my front door, and I don't know that he's got a hidden camera out in the truck and a man working the camera.
SIPE: He would have had to or he wouldn't have got that beautiful picture of you standing down there trying to shake your hand.
LUSHBAUGH: Have you seen me on "60 Minutes"? This young man that we talked to about Rick's being head of the REAC/TS program. Ricks does a very fine job in the REAC/TS program, but he does a terribly poor job when he gives "60 Minutes" my address out in the hills of Tennessee.
SIPE: You told him not to come and he came anyway. He's not easy to find.
LUSHBAUGH: He said to me, "How would you like to come out on your front lawn and have your picture taken with me?" I said, "I do not want to do that." Very plain. Then he said, "How would you like to come out to the truck where we have a camera so we can take your picture and have you say, 'No comment.'" I said, "I do not want to do that." He said, "How would you like to meet with Mrs. Stahl about this whole interview?" I said, "No thank you, I do not want to do that."
FISHER: Was this recently?
LUSHBAUGH: Yes, very recently.
SIPE: Back in the spring [1994].
LUSHBAUGH: What happens is that they show this whole interview on "60 Minutes," and me in my blue bath robe.
SIPE: He wouldn't shake his hand even, I was very proud of him. You didn't shake his hand.
LUSHBAUGH: I know I didn't. In fact, I could have killed him.
SIPE: He's one of the ones that helped stir it all up anyway.
LUSHBAUGH: I was too poor to do anything about it.
SIPE: They came here in January. I told Dr. Lushbaugh, and he said, "Why weren't you on there?" I said, "I decided to go have a hysterectomy in Knoxville to keep from being on that thing." Or I would have been here and I probably would have pinned her against the wall, no doubt about it, because of the things she said: "Do you mean to tell me that [you] put your child in remission for a month? That's not very long, is it?" I had to go around town and talk. Let me tell you something: I didn't do it on purpose. I said, "If you have a baby that you're holding for one extra month. That's a remission."
LUSHBAUGH: Who is this Stahl?
SIPE: Leslie Stahl. She was so brutal.
LUSHBAUGH: You're rubbing on a sore spot.
SIPE: We really have it terrible. That's what takes it away. That's what takes things away from all the good that was done.
FISHER: It's important to get your perspectives on this. I know you've been injured in a lot of ways.
LUSHBAUGH: I don't really care about that.
SIPE: It's just not fair.
LUSHBAUGH: I don't want to be continuously injured the rest of my life.
SIPE: One of the things, also, and Dr. Lushbaugh will back it: it injures the people. It injures the people who had hope. It injured the people who these people are trying to make them, let them say such terrible things that was done to their loved ones. It makes us so angry, because we saw what it did. We saw the faces, the hope. We've seen the ones who made it. Last week, one of the mothers who lost her child called me to tell me how her daughter has cancer, her husband is dying of cancer, and then she called me three days later to tell me he was dead. This boy died in '69 and they still come to me. I don't go to them. The camaraderie. She also went to Washington with us in '83. It's the damage it does to the people who were here. Because one lady called and said, "Why don't they stop this? You gave my husband five years. Why don't they leave us alone?" It's not saying "ORINS" and it's not saying "Dr. Lushbaugh," it is saying "them." Why don't they leave us alone? That's the tragedy. And when O'Leary says the terrible things that happened to people; they need to be reimbursed; they need money back. And then later she says, "I don't know where we get the money." That was in Oak Ridge. But the tragedy that "Oh, yes, we did do terrible things and that we need to pay you back." They didn't do terrible things. Some things have happened in the past all over the United States that's not too pleasant, but it wasn't here. It's not fair. He gets tired. I get tired of it.

Interview Wrap-Up

FISHER: It sounds like the program, at least the whole body radiation program was canceled in about 1974?
SIPE: Yes.
FISHER: Because of budget cutbacks?
SIPE: Yes.
LUSHBAUGH: Right. You see, at the same time, the thing thatgave me a hint as to what DOE was actually doing was that they closed down at that time the medical facility at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and they also closed it down at the University of Chicago.
FISHER: Do you know what the reasons were?
LUSHBAUGH: Yes. They were becoming too expensive. Let's have some truth in this.
FISHER: We ought to wrap this up by mentioning that you received in 1984 the Distinguished Scientific Achievement Award of the Health Physics Society.
SIPE: So why are they hammering you, huh?
SIPE: He's gotten a lot of awards.
FISHER: Your acceptance speech, if I remember right, was very short.
LUSHBAUGH: Was it printable?
FISHER: Then you retired in 1989?
LUSHBAUGH: I retired actually October 1, 1990. There is some give and take about that because ORAU has one person, Pam Boni, who was supposed to be at that conference today. She keeps one number and I keep another number, so we don't agree on when I retired.
SIPE: He's sort of retired twice, like I have. He left the position of chairman and he came over to REAC/TS, and he and I worked on some programs and whatnot. I didn't recall you retired then. Just like I'm retired now. It was '91 when you retired.
FISHER: At the age of 75.
ANDERS: Looking back on your life, what do you consider your greatest accomplishments and achievements?
LUSHBAUGH: Starting chemotherapy. That was done when I was a little boy, wet behind the ears.
FISHER: In recent years, who were your colleagues that impressed you the most, and why?
LUSHBAUGH: I have trouble with the expression of "your colleagues." I've been impressed by a lot of people. Actually, in my retirement I'm impressed mostly by a man named Lewis who writes scientific articles. This fellow, Lewis, works at, or did work at, the Memorial Hospital in New York City. I remember when I first came across him way long ago and some of his writings, and he writes beautifully. My professor Paul Cannon at the University of Chicago had never read him. I think that's terrible. I think that here is a guy who should be widespread. He's a very knowledgeable writer about biological medical topics and I think he's great.
FISHER: Who does he write for?
LUSHBAUGH: Himself. He writes for books.
FISHER: His last name is Lewis?
SIPE: The doctors had personalities a like sometime. I had to work in-between them and I learned. I used to be real gentle and soft and real soft-spoken. Let me tell you, I learned, didn't I?
LUSHBAUGH: You've got to tell it like it is.
FISHER: It's important that we hear your comments and your history and your opinions for history. Like I said at the very beginning, you've worked through the golden era of radiation research and a lot of this work cannot any longer be done, nor is it possible, and a lot has been learned that doesn't need to be relearned. You've had many wonderful opportunities to both practice medicine and do scientific research.
ANDERS: I think if you were to remember such things, jot them down in a letter form or something like that, we could always attach them to the transcript of the oral history interview.
FISHER: Incidentally, were you classmates with Eugene Saenger in high school?
LUSHBAUGH: Yes. I ran against him for senior class president and I won.
FISHER: Isn't that amazing that you both would end up in the same field both with M.D.s and somewhat controversial in your old age?
SIPE: You get those two together and you think, "controversial."
FISHER: Both have appeared before Congress to answer questions.
SIPE: They're something.
ANDERS: Dr. Lushbaugh, Mrs. Sipe, I want to thank you very much. We really appreciate your taking this time with us to put your perspectives and your recollection on the record. I would like to read the titles of the documents, Mrs. Sipe, that you were referring to earlier, into the microphone, so we'll have them for our records. This was one of them. One of the documents that Ann Sipe was referring to was entitled "Studies Relative to the Radiosensitivity of Man Based on Retrospective Evaluations of Therapeutic and Accidental Total Body Irradiation—Final Report." The report was written and compiled by R.C. Rex and C.C. Lushbaugh. Study completion date June 30, 1975.
SIPE: I think you've got it.
ANDERS: She also referred to a book entitled ORAU From the Beginning, written by William G. Pollard with Gould A. Andrews, Marshall Brucer, et al., which was published by Oak Ridge Associated Universities, Oak Ridge Tennessee, 1980. Goodbye, thank you very much.

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