WASHINGTON (CN) – President Obama ordered Amy Gutman, chair of the Presidential Commission of the Study of Bioethical Issues, to review protections for human subjects of medical experiments to prevent actions such as the recently uncovered U.S. Public Health Service’s 1945-1948 intentional infection of about 1,500 Guatemalan prisoners and mental health patients with sexually transmitted diseases from happening again.
The commission will convene a special panel, including international experts, to conduct a fact-finding investigation into the specifics of the U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Diseases Inoculation Study which also was responsible for the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis carried out at the same time as the Guatemalan atrocity. Obama has ordered the commission to hold at least one of its fact-finding missions in Guatemala.
In addition to the fact-finding report, Obama has charged the commission to assure that “current rules for research participants protect people from harm or unethical treatment, domestically as well as internationally.”
This part of the commission’s charge may be redundant, as outrage over the Tuskegee study led to establishment of the Office for Human Research Protections within the Department of Health and Human Services to monitor Institutional Review Boards charged with creating bioethical guidelines requiring informed consent for human test subjects.
In addition to the commission’s investigative panel, the Institute of Medicine, part of the National Academy of Sciences, is convening a committee of independent experts to conduct a fact finding investigation to write a report on the study.The Guatemalan study was uncovered by Professor Susan Reverby of Wellesley College who was researching the Tuskegee study in the papers of the late Dr. John Cutler, a U.S. Public Health Service medical officer who conducted the Guatemalan study and who, as an assistant surgeon general in the 1960s, became involved in the Tuskegee study.