Obama calls for investigation into Guatamala STD study

US President Barack Obama has asked his bioethics commission to report on an almost forgotten unethical study in Guatemala between 1946 and 1948. Sex workers, prisoners and volunteers were intentionally infected with syphilis by doctors from the US Public Health Service to test the effectiveness of the new wonder drug penicillin. This study violated basic human rights principles and took place shortly after Nazi doctors were convicted of medical research without informed consent. The principal investigator, John Cutler, was also involved in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis trials.

“I want to be assured that current rules for research participants protect people from harm or unethical treatment, domestically as well as internationally,” the President told the chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, Amy Gutmann. The commission is to report in September next year.

“While I believe the research community has made tremendous progress in the area of human subjects protection, what took place in Guatemala is a sobering reminder of past abuses,” Mr Obama wrote. It is especially important for the Commission to use its vast expertise spanning the fields of science, policy, ethics, and religious values to carry out this mission. We owe it to the people of Guatemala and future generations of volunteers who participate in medical research.” ~ White House, Nov 24

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