Obama’s Bioethics Commission on human subjects protections

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, chaired by Penn President Amy Gutmann, met in Washington this week to discuss the protection of human subjects in scientific studies. The Commission was asked by President Obama to take on this topic in the wake of revelations last October about U.S. Public Health Service-supported research on sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala from 1946-48, which involved the intentional infection of vulnerable human populations. 

President Obama asked the Commission to fully investigate the historical research programs in Guatemala. He also requested a report on the effectiveness of current U.S. rules and international standards for the protection of human subjects in scientific studies supported by the Federal Government and for assurance that research participants are treated safely, ethically and fairly. At its meeting, the Commission heard reports on the landscape of global medical research from bioethicists and clinical research experts, and on the ethical and social justice implications of this research.    

Gutmann appeared on CNN’s “American Morning” on March 2 to discuss the issue of human subjects protections with host Ali Velshi. 

To aid the Commission in its review, Gutmann announced on March 1 the formation of an International Research Panel to consider the standards and current federal rules for protecting human subjects in scientific studies. The panel, chaired by Gutmann, includes experts on medical ethics, science and clinical research who bring experience from academia, government and industry. They hail from many countries, including Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, Guatemala, India, Russia, Uganda, Belgium and the United States. A full listing of the panel’s charge and its members can be found here: www.bioethics.gov/news/2011/03/presidents-bioethics-commission-names-international-research-panel.html.

“The members of this International Research Panel will offer a valuable global perspective,” Gutmann says. “Their diverse backgrounds, extensive experience and understanding of global research and their commitment to the highest ethical standards will be critical to informing the Bioethics Commission’s report to President Obama.”

In addition, the Commission has begun reviewing hundreds of thousands of pages of historical documents to better understand what happened in Guatemala in the 1940s, to be included in the Commission’s final report to the President.

For a full list of the Commission’s agenda this week and a webcast of the proceedings, click here: www.bioethics.gov/meetings/022811/.

Selected news coverage of the Commission’s latest meeting can be found here: www.upenn.edu/pennnews/amy-gutmann.

Originally published on March 3, 2011