[JURIST] Seven Guatemalans filed a class action lawsuit [complaint, PDF] on Monday with the US District Court for the District of Columbia alleging that they had been the subject of non-consensual human medical experimentation by the US Public Health Service (PHS) [official websites]. The suit was brought on behalf of all individuals who were subjected to experimentation in Guatemala or were infected to be used as vehicles to infect test subjects for the venereal disease experiments. The complaint alleges that the PHS conducted the human medical experiments in Guatemala to test whether penicillin could also be used as a prophylaxis immediately following exposure to the syphilis bacteria. The plaintiffs seek to establish similarities between their case and the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” in the complaint. The complaint further alleges:
Once the PHS learned what it wished from each Guatemalan subject’s induced exposure, it may have provided penicillin to presumably cure the infection. However, the PHS provided little follow-up to ensure that the subjects were actually cured of their infection. How long the study continued and how long treatment, if any, was provided to those affected is not clear.
The plaintiffs seek relief under the Alien Tort Statute [28 USC § 1350], the Fifth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment [materials]. The complaint asks the court to declare that their human rights were violated, award plaintiffs compensatory and punitive damages, and permanently enjoin the defendants from further engaging in human rights abuses against plaintiffs and the people of Guatemala.
Evidence of the PHS program [report] was discovered by Professor Susan Reverby [academic profile]. US President Barack Obama [official website] apologized [BBC report] to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom for the testing. Reverby’s study shows that the PHS infected more than 700 people in Guatemala with syphilis and gonorrhea. The patients were prisoners and people suffering from mental health problems and were unaware they were being tested.