News / Health

US Report Finds Human Research Subjects Enjoy Adequate Protection

A person holds a sign with the date December 23, 1947 next to the wound of a person who had been infected with a venereal disease in the late 1940s in an unknown location in Guatemala, in this undated picture released online in March 2011 by The National
A person holds a sign with the date December 23, 1947 next to the wound of a person who had been infected with a venereal disease in the late 1940s in an unknown location in Guatemala, in this undated picture released online in March 2011 by The National
Jessica Berman

A report commissioned by the Obama administration concludes that despite some egregious past abuses, people taking part today in medical tests and clinical trials enjoy adequate legal protections. The report follows the disclosure last year that the U.S. Public Health Service in the 1940s supported unethical research involving inmates at a Guatemalan prison.  

Between 1946 and 1948, U.S. public health officials, hoping to test the effectiveness of the antibiotic penicillin against syphilis, reportedly exposed 1,300 Guatemalan prisoners to the potentially fatal venereal disease. Prostitutes known to be infected with syphilis were sent into jails to have sex with the inmates. Men who did not become sick from these contacts were purposely infected with syphilis, through cuts researchers made on the prisoners' genitals. Eighty-three people died in the experiments.

This little-known research project was brought to light in 2010 by a medical historian at Wellesley College, and reported widely by the news media, including the New York Times. In response to the public furor that ensued, the Obama Administration issued an apology to the Guatamalans affected by the research, and called for a study to determine if current rules and regulations adequately protect human research subjects from similar abuse.

Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania, heads the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, which issued its final report on the matter Wednesday.

“The commission is confident that what happened in Guatemala in the 1940s could not happen today," said Gutmann. "We also are confident that there is room for improvement in protecting human subjects from harm, avoidable harm, and unethical treatment.”

In its survey of 18 U.S. government agencies, including the Pentagon, the commission found that few could easily access information on the more than 55,000 human test subjects worldwide currently involved in some kind of medical research.

As a result, the ethics panel recommends more than a dozen changes to current practices to ensure the well-being of those taking part in clinical trials. A key recommendation is that all federal agencies supporting human research abroad must maintain accurate and accessible electronic records of all experiments, including the nature and purpose of the research, the names of the researchers, and the names and locations of all test subjects.

Ross McKinney, director of the Trent Center for Bioethics at Duke University in North Carolina, has lectured on the Guatemala experiments. McKinney, who describes the 1940s syphilis research as “barbaric,” believes it’s highly unlikely that something like that could happen again.

“There are many levels of oversight now that didn’t exist at that point in time," he said. "The entire structure of institutional review boards, IRBs, which independently review research, didn’t exist [in the 1940s]. And now, most countries, most medical centers, require things to have IRB approval, essentially approval by a neutral body that judges the ethics. I don’t think they would let slip something as grotesque as the Guatemalan experiment.”

The bioethics panel also recommends that the U.S. government consider a way to compensate any of the affected Guatemalan prisoners who might still be alive, more than 60 years after the experiments.

You May Like

Ukraine Purges Interior Ministry Leadership With Pro-Russian Ties

Interior Minister Avakov says 91 people 'in positions of leadership' have been fired, including 8 generals found to have links to past pro-Moscow governments More

US Airlines Point to Additional Problems of any Ebola Travel Ban

Airline officials note that even under travel ban, they may not be able to determine where passenger set out from, as there are no direct flights from Liberia, Guinea or Sierra Leone More

Nigerian President to Seek Another Term

Goodluck Jonathan has faced intense criticism for failing to stop Boko Haram militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid