How 1 Family Persuaded U.S. Bioethics Body to List Japanese War Crimes

  • By Lee Young-wan

    January 16, 2020 12:30

    Appalling medical experiments carried out by the Japanese on Korean and Chinese victims in World War II finally feature prominently in a mandatory U.S. bioethics text read by 300,000 scientists around the world.

    Their inclusion is the result of years of campaigning by one family of Korean-American scientists.

    They are Prof. Park Cho-Park (45) at the University of Pennsylvania, his mother and a researcher at the same university, Park In-ae (71), his older brother and doctor Cho In at the same university, and his younger brother and professor at Harvard University Cho Yoon (40).

    They e-mailed the National Institutes of Health more than 270 times from 2014 to 2019 seeking a revision to the old bioethics textbook.

    The text now draws due attention to the atrocities of Unit 731, a covert biological and chemical warfare research and development detachment of the Imperial Japanese Army that conducted lethal human experiments on around 3,000 Korean and Chinese prisoners of war and other captives from 1936 to 1945.

    During that time an estimated 600 people a year were used as human guinea pigs to test various chemical and biological weapons and for other horrific experiments.

    This file photo copied on Jan. 7, 2014 shows personnel attending a "plague prevention" drill which was in fact a bacteriological test run by Japan's infamous Unit 731 in November of 1940 in China's Jilin Province.

    Cho-Park attended a bioethics lecture at the NIH when he was conducting postdoctoral research at Rockefeller University in 2014. The NIH's chronological records during 1939-1940 detailed human experiments conducted by the Nazis on Jews, but no information about the atrocities of Unit 731.

    He found that hard to understand and started asking questions, which led him to the official responsible for compiling the NIH text. He sent an e-mail seeking to include atrocities committed by Unit 731 but got no response.

    That prompted his entire family to search for more information on Unit 731. Cho-Park sent e-mails to the official every week over the five years, attaching testimony, photos and other information from victims in Korea, China and Russia. The NIH ignored him for years.

    "I was discouraged a countless number of times," he recalls, but the family persisted and continued to call on the NIH. Finally, their efforts paid off and the NIH decided to list on its chronological records the atrocities of Unit 731.

    The NIH is the recipient of the largest research and development funding from the federal government and provided US$39.2 billion in support to around 300,000 scientists last year. The new bioethics chronology is a mandatory text that is required to be studied by NIH-funded researchers.

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