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

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines 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.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid