Discuss additional steps that could have been taken to avoid any unethical issues that resulted in the Guatemala experiments.
An investigative panel put together by President Obama in 2011 released some “disturbing” news which reported that in the 1940’s, U.S. researchers performed unethical medical procedures and experiments on people in Guatemala, including re-infecting a dying woman with syphilis. These past experiments, which were conducted from 1946–1948 by the U.S. Public Health Service, the Pan American Sanitary Bureau and several Guatemalan government agencies. They wanted to test if penicillin could prevent STDs such as gonorrhea and syphilis. The reports alleged that they tested this theory by deliberately exposing over 1,300 Guatemalans, including soldiers, sex workers, prisoner and mental patients. More than 700 people were infected with an STD and 83 people died.
These particular experiments were not a secret, but what the panel found shocked them. According to a recent Huffington Post article, a female syphilis patient was infected with gonorrhea in her eyes and elsewhere. Six months later she died. “The researchers put their own medical advancement first and human decency a far second,” said Anita Allen, a member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. President Obama subsequently called Guatemala’s president, Alvaro Colom, to apologize. History will suggest that African-Americans are no strangers to this type of medical mistreatment. The infamous Tuskegee Experiment conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama, to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in 600 African-American men is well documented. The current distrust that exists in America between the African-American community and the “medical establishment” serves as a continual reminder of past abuses. The African-American community has a unique perspective, one that began steeped in exploitation. While there have been obvious improvements in access to good health care, fear and suspicion remain. As with any wound, this relationship requires time to fully mend. President Clinton’s apology provided a first step, recognizing and accepting the government’s role in perpetuating this crucial contributor to heath disparities.
In your reading for this week about the Tuskegee Experiment:
1. Discuss the influences it had on the future conduct of clinical trials.
2. Discuss additional steps that could have been taken to avoid any unethical issues that resulted in the Guatemala experiments.
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