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January 28, 1998

Physicians and Biological Warfare Agents—Reply

Author Affiliations

Margaret A.WinkerMD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorPhil B.FontanarosaMD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 1998;279(4):273-274. doi:10.1001/jama.279.4.271

In Reply.—Dr Tokuda has touched on the importance of physicians' ethical responsibilities. This point was not fully emphasized in our article, but it lies at the heart of both the proliferation and deterrence of biological warfare.

Scientists and physicians have played a central role in the development of offensive biological weapons. In addition to Tokuda's examples of the Aum Shinrikyo cult and Unit 731, we would add that the former US offensive program enlisted some of the brightest minds in microbiology during World War II. It was a wartime effort that "vied only with the Manhattan Project . . . in securing certain types of scientists."1 The entire US effort was focused on research and development of biological weapons for retaliation in the event the Axis countries resorted to their use.1 However, based on ethical considerations, the US Army Surgeon General recused the use of the military's medical staff for any offensive research and development.1