Panel: US Needs System to Pay Research Subjects

Posted August 30th, 2011 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
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A review panel looking into a U.S.-funded medical study in Guatemala says the U.S. government should set up a system to compensate research subjects for injuries related to the trials.

The International Research Panel made the recommendation Tuesday to U.S. President Barack Obama's commission on bioethics. The research panel was formed in March to address current standards for research involving human subjects.

The panel's recommendation came one day after the presidential commission said the researchers involved in the 1940s Guatemala study deliberately exposed vulnerable populations to sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea without their consent or knowledge.

The vulnerable populations included children, mental patients, prisoners and commercial sex workers. Among its findings, the commission said the researchers failed to act in accordance with “minimal respect of human rights” and that the work was sloppily done and ethically objectionable.

The commission found that more than 5,500 Guatemalans were involved in the medical experiments, which took place between 1946 and 1948. The study aimed to test the effectiveness of penicillin, which was then a relatively new treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom has described the 1940's study as a crime against humanity. U.S. President Barack Obama also offered his apologies for the study.

The international reviewers have asked the current commission to consider specific plans to assist people who may become injured while taking part in medical studies.

Results of the Guatemala study were never published. The research was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

Details of the study were discovered in the papers of the late Dr. John Cutler, a U.S. public health investigator who helped conduct the research. Cutler also was later involved in similar experiments on African-American men at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In that study, some of the men were infected with syphilis but were never treated.

Professor Susan Reverby at Wellesley College Massachusetts uncovered the Guatemala study while conducting research into the Tuskegee experiments.