[JURIST] Hundreds of individuals on Wednesday filed suit [complaint, PDF] for medical malpractice against Johns Hopkins University [university website] for its role in government medical experiments that took place in Guatemala in the 1940s and 50s. During this time, individuals were deliberately infected with venereal diseases, including syphilis and gonorrhea, without their consent. The individuals were told that they were undergoing “routine medical tests” and that the medication they were being administered was “for their own good.” The experiments were allegedly targeted at “children, soldiers, prison inmates, psychiatric hospital patients, and orphans.” The suit was filed on behalf of 774 former research subjects and their families and seeks $1 billion in damages. According to the complaint, officials at Johns Hopkins had “substantial influence” over the studies, including advising the federal government on how to spend research funds. Specifically, it alleges that Johns Hopkins, along with other named defendants “participated in, approved, encouraged, directed, and aided and abetted human subject experiments in Guatemala.”
News of these experiments came to light in 2010 [NYT report]. It was closely followed by an apology by Barack Obama [Reuters report] to the president of Guatemala and a lawsuit [JURIST report] on behalf of seven Guatemalans who claimed that they had been the subject of non-consensual human medical experimentation by the US Public Health Service [official website]. That challenge was dismissed [JURIST report] by a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website], as the US government is specifically exempt from liability for torts that occur outside of the US. Although the presiding judge acknowledged that “the Guatemala Study is a deeply troubling chapter in our Nation’s history,” he found that the court had no authority to provide relief. While news of the experiments came out in 2010, the specific details of the experiments remained hidden until the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues published its report [text] in 2011.