Presidents Bioethics Commission Meets to Continue Consideration of Human Subjects Protection at Presidents Request

Guatemala expected to release its own report soon

May 18, 2011


New York, N.Y. – Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., Chair of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, was briefed on commission staffs’ trip to Guatemala, at the Commission’s latest public meeting being held today and tomorrow, May 18-19, in New York.

Both the United States and Guatemala launched separate investigations in the wake of revelations last October that the U.S. Public Health Service supported unethical sexually transmitted disease (STD) research conducted in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948.  The STD research program, which was led by Dr. John C. Cutler, involved the intentional infection of vulnerable populations in Guatemala.  The U.S. investigation is being overseen by the President’s Bioethics Commission and the Guatemalan investigation is being led by Vice President Espada.

“The Commission is grateful to Vice President Espada for his transparency and for all of the help that he and his investigative commission have provided to us as we work to document this clearly unethical historical injustice,” Gutmann said.

Executive Director, Valerie Bonham briefed the Commission on the staffs’ recent meetings with Vice-President Espada and with the archivists assisting in the investigation in Guatemala.

The Guatemalan leader told the Commission staff that the results of his country’s investigation will be released by the end of this month.  Espada reported that archivists in Guatemala used Guatemalan records to independently confirm the Cutler documents, to establish the depth of the events and to confirm the intentional infection of vulnerable populations such as inmates, soldiers, prostitutes and patients at a mental hospital. The archivists found no evidence of consent by the subjects.

Commission Executive Director Valerie Bonham, J.D., who is leading the U.S. investigation, also briefed the Commission on the status of its progress.  Bonham previously worked with President Clinton’s Advisory committee on Human Radiation Experiments, the closest analog in U.S. history to the fact-finding being undertaken now.

“We are on track to deliver our report to President Obama this summer,” Gutmann said.

“Our mutual commitment to identifying the full facts in this case will help both nations, and our medical and scientific communities, to be assured that current rules for research participants protect people from harm and unethical treatment,” Gutmann added.

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