Operation Whitecoat

The Operation Whitecoat was the name that received a medical research program conducted by the United States Army between 1954 and 1973 at Fort Detrick which consisted in conducting medical experiments on human volunteers, chosen from among recruits soldiers registered as conscientious objectors Of the Seventh-day Adventist Church . The stated aim of these experiments was to experiment with defense against biological and chemical weapons.


The United States Army began its experiments on the effects of biological weapons in 1953, conducting a study of Q fever with volunteers. To recruit volunteers, the Adventist Church was contacted in October 1954 and in 1958 the first research projects began. Volunteers were able to consult their families and priests before deciding to participate. Approximately 20% of the initial volunteers declined to participate. 1

In the end about 2300 American soldiers participated as volunteers in the research allowing them to infect viruses and bacteria that were considered of possible use in a biological attack. In addition, 800 other volunteers participated as laboratory technicians, nursing assistants, animal caregivers and clerks. Volunteers, known as white coat (literally white coat), were exposed to pathogens yellow fever , Rift Valley Fever , hepatitis A , Yersinia pestis , tularemia and Venezuelan equine encephalitis , among others.


Many of the vaccines that protect against agents used in biological warfare were tested on humans in Operation Whitecoat. According to USAMRIID, Operation Whitecoat contributed to the procurement of vaccines approved by the Food and Drug Administration for yellow fever and hepatitis and in the research of drugs to treat Q fever, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, Rift Valley fever and Tularemia, in addition the USAMRIID also affirms that it served to develop equipment, decontamination procedures, incubators , centrifuges and filters of particles 2

None of the volunteers died during the testing period, an estimated 500 volunteers were still alive in 2003. In 1969, following the appearance of a series of articles in the press, many Adventists began questioning the involvement of their Church in the project.


  1. Back to top↑ Jeffery Stephenson and Arthur Anderson “Ethical and Legal Dilemmas in Biodefense Research” [1]
  2. Back to top↑ Idem, page 567