U.S. Public Health Service experiments in the 1940s in which people in Guatemala were infected with sexually transmitted diseases -- without their consent -- are not only ethically reprehensible by today's standards, but violated standards of the time, according to a statement issued Monday by the U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. President Obama charged the commission with studying what happened in Guatemala decades ago, and to follow up with a report (still to come) to make sure appropriate ethical standards are being followed today. As to the historical report, the commission found that a similar study was conducted by many of the same researchers in a prison in Indiana, before the Guatemala work. But in Indiana, the prisoners were given a full briefing and gave informed consent. “This finding goes a long way to helping the commission answer the question about whether ethics rules of the time were violated,” said a statement from Amy Gutmann, chair of the commission and president of the University of Pennsylvania.
Gutmann said that the commission's work was important to honor the victims in Guatemala and to help legitimate research today. "Research with human subjects is a sacred trust. Without public confidence, participation will decline and critical research will be stopped. It is imperative that we get this right," she said.
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