By April V. Taylor
In what can only be described as a horrific medical scandal similar to the Tuskegee Study, more than 750 plaintiffs are suing the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital System Corp. for $1 billion. The Guardian is reporting that the Hospital played a role in experiments that came to light in 2010 in which orphans, other children and mental patients were intentionally infected with Sexually Transmitted Diseases, without their consent between 1945 and 1956.
The experiments were allegedly led by the U.S. government and more than 1.000 Guatemalans were infected with syphilis and other STDs. According to Ron Jenkins, one of the lead attorneys for victims says that the U.S. federal government only provided the funding for the experiments and that, “The experiment itself was designed, promoted, organized, implemented, and assisted by these defendants.”
Susan Reverby, a college professor and medical historian, is responsible for uncovering information about the experiments after digging through archives at the University of Pittsburgh. One of the most sinister things about the experiments is that there were no findings published and none of the Guatemalans who participated were informed that they were infected or offered follow up medical care or education about how to prevent the spread of the STDs. More than 5,500 prisoners, sex workers, soldiers, children and psychiatric patients were involved in the experiment.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, researchers infected Guatemalan sex workers with gonorrhea or syphilis and then aimed to spread the diseases by allowing the infected sex workers to have sex with soldiers and prison inmates. The Rockefeller Foundation is names in the lawsuit along with Johns Hopkins and accuses both institutions of helping to “design, support, encourage and finance,” the experiments by specifically employing scientists and physicians who were using the tests to determine if penicillin was capable of preventing the STDs.
According to the lawsuit, predecessor companies to the now giant Bristol-Myers Squibb pharmaceutical company was responsible for supplying the penicillin that was used in the experiments. In addition, the company was aware of the fact that participants had not given their consent to be infected with the STDs and that the tests were secretive.
Paul Bekman, a Baltimore-based attorney representing the plaintiffs, says that 60 of the 774 claimants are direct survivors of the experiments, with many participants dying as a result of them being deliberately infected. Bekman points out that while, “The people who are responsible [for carrying out the research] now are long dead. But the records are there, and we have detailed documentation that supports the allegations in our complaint.”
Some claimants passed the diseases on to their family members. Marta Orellana was a 9-year-old orphan when she was forced to participate in the experiments. In a 2011 interview with the Guardian, Orellana recalls being forced to allow foreigners and a Guatemalan doctor to examine her. The details about how the infections were carried out are more than unnerving. Documents show that prostitutes were infected and then provided to other subjects to facilitate internal transmission of the disease. An emulsion preparation containing the syphilis or gonorrhea virus was spread under the foreskin of a the penis.
Despite a public acknowledgement and apology from then secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2010 following a presidential bioethics commission investigation that ruled the experiments “involved unconscionable basic violations of ethics,” both the Rockefeller Foundation and John Hopkins University are vehemently denying that either organization had any involvement whatsoever in the experiments. Johns Hopkins School of Medicine released a statement through a spokeswoman stating, “Johns Hopkins did not initiate, pay for, direct of conduct the study in Guatemala. No nonprofit university or hospital has ever been held liable for a study conducted by the US government.”
A statement from the Rockefeller Foundation published online claims that the organization is simply having “misleading characterizations of relationships between the Foundation and individuals who were in some way associated with the experiments,” spread about it. The U.S government was responsible for compensating descendants from the Tuskegee experiments, but Guatemalan victims are struggling to receive the same.