Operation Desert Shield is in danger of being used as a cover to pre-empt some basic human medical rights and safeguards.

The Food and Drug Administration recently altered its long-standing regulatory policy - making it possible to give experimental drugs to U.S. forces serving in the Persian Gulf without their consent. That should not be allowed.The new "interim rule," established at the request of the Defense Department, is intended to provide flexibility in countering the effects of chemical and biological weapons.

The policy gives the FDA authority to permit administration of "investigational drugs and biologics" without obtaining the "informed consent" of soldiers if the commissioner of food and drug deems that such consent "is not feasible" in the urgency of battlefield conditions.

The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act requires that people who are to receive investigational drugs be informed of the substances' experimental nature and give their consent to the treatment.

The Defense Department insisted that they had "nothing exotic" in mind. The drugs contemplated have well-established uses.

This rule obviously raises severe ethical and legal questions.

It is one thing to say that consent is not possible in the heat of battle, but if the drugs to be used are known - and it is also known who might be using them - then surely consent could be obtained in advance.

Moreover, soldiers who waive informed consent may also be waiving their ability to claim harm from the drugs at a later time.

Such cavalier treatment of our armed forces represents severe invasion of personal rights and is not justifiable, even if the Persian Gulf crisis turns to war.