Ethically Impossible

The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, chaired by Penn President Amy Gutmann, has completed the first phase of an important study on U.S.-funded research conducted in the 1940s in Guatemala that involved intentionally exposing and infecting vulnerable populations to sexually transmitted diseases without the subjects' consent.

Penn Law Professor Anita Allen (who comments above) is also a member of the Commission, which publicly released the results of its investigation on September 13, after fully briefing and delivering its report to the White House. 

"In the Commission's view, the Guatemala experiments involved unconscionable basic violations of ethics, even as judged against the researchers' own recognition of the requirements of the medical ethics of the day," Gutmann says. "The individuals who approved, conducted, facilitated and funded these experiments are morally culpable to various degrees for these wrongs."

Following the revelation last fall that the PHS supported research on sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, President Obama asked the Bioethics Commission to oversee a thorough fact-finding investigation into the studies. With the historical investigation concluded, the Commission now turns its attention to its ongoing work in reviewing contemporary standards that protect human research participants. That report is due to the President in December.

The full report, Ethically Impossible: STD Research in Guatemala from 1946-1953, also includes the Commission's ethical analysis of the case. Gutmann's comments on the investigation were published in the Huffington Post on September 14.