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SCBMA Files Lawsuit for Victims of Human Syphilis Experiments in Guatemala

Today, on behalf of over 750 victims and family members, SCBMA filed a lawsuit against The Rockefeller Foundation, the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Johns Hopkins Health System Corporation, alleging that they were the primary driving force behind illegal and immoral human experiments in which vulnerable populations of Guatemalans were deceived, and intentionally exposed to syphilis, gonorrhea and other venereal diseases without treatment in the 1940s and 1950s.

The experiments targeted school children, orphans, psychiatric hospital patients, prison inmates and military conscripts.  In 2010, the Obama Administration apologized to Guatemala for the experiments and created a Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to investigate them.

The Presidential Commission issued its findings in September 2011 along with a Study Guide.  There has also been considerable research and scholarship about the circumstances which led to the human experimentation, such as this article by Kayte Spector-Bagdady, J.D., M. Bioethics, and Paul Lombardo, Ph.D, J.D., who are, respectively, the Associate Director and a Senior Advisor to the Presidential Commission.

The Presidential Commission reported that, among other human rights violations, prostitutes were infected with venereal disease and then provided for sex to subjects for intentional transmission of the disease; subjects were inoculated by injection of syphilis spirochetes into the spinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, under the skin, and on mucous membranes; an emulsion containing syphilis or gonorrhea was spread under the foreskin of the penis in male subjects; the penis of male subjects was scraped or scarified and then coated with the emulsion containing syphilis or gonorrhea; a woman from the psychiatric hospital was injected with syphilis, developed skin lesions and wasting, and then had gonorrheal pus from a male subject injected into both of her eyes.  Many of the Guatemalans developed venereal disease.  Most were never treated, and thereby passed the venereal diseases onto their spouses and children.

Key Rockefeller and Johns Hopkins researchers involved in the Guatemala Experiments, were also behind the now infamous Tuskegee experiments, in which 600 impoverished African-American sharecroppers were never informed they had syphilis, and were given placebos rather than real medicine.  The Tuskegee experiments were halted after being exposed by a whistleblower.

The Guatemala victims have also sued pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb, which was also involved in the Guatemala Experiments.

The case was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City in Baltimore, Maryland.  The victims are represented by three law firms: Bekman, Marder & Adkins of Baltimore, Maryland, Meridian 361 International Law Group, PLLC of Portland, Maine; and Escritorio Juridico Rodriguez Fajardo y Asociados of Caracas, Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela.

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