Lawsuit Seeks Remedy for Guatemalan Research Victims

The federal government must respond by early next year to a lawsuit filed on behalf of < "">Guatemalan research victims who were intentionally infected with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases by U.S. scientists in the 1940s. Attorneys for plaintiffs in the Guatemalan lawsuit assert that the Obama Administration’s appropriate response to their filing is to offer victims a “concrete and just remedy as soon as possible.”

As we’ve reported previously, starting in 1946, medical researchers from the U.S. Public Health Service intentionally infected hundreds of people in Guatemala, including soldiers, mental patients, and orphans with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission. The doctor who led the Guatemalan syphilis experiments was John C. Cutler, who also helped coordinate the infamous Tuskegee, Alabama, study where 600 black men with syphilis were left untreated for decades starting in 1932 to follow the course of the treatable disease. Cutler used promises of medical supplies and other inducements to convince orphanages, prisons and mental hospitals in Guatemala to allow the experiments.

At least 83 people died in the experiments, though it’s not known what killed them. Researchers did not obtain informed consent from the victims of the experiments, and in some cases, did not offer them treatment for their ailments.

When the experimentation came to light, President Obama apologized for the research, and tasked the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues with investigating the experiments. That panel recently deemed the Guatemalan experiments “unconscionable” and also called on the U.S. government to create a system to compensate people who are harmed by participating in scientific research.

Earlier this month, Mateo Gudiel Pinto and seven other named plaintiffs filed suit against the U.S. government over the experiments, and the government has until January 9 to respond. The lawsuit seeks to represent unknown number of other Guatemalans who have yet to be identified but were injured by the experiments, which ran from 1946 to 1948, and possibly to 1953, according to The Washington Times.

So far, the U.S. Department of Justice has not commented on the lawsuit.

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