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US commission recommends increased protection for people in research after reviewing 1940s syphilis study

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: (Published 02 September 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d5577
  1. Janice Hopkins Tanne
  1. 1New York

The US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is recommending increased protection for people taking part in research studies after its investigation into experiments conducted during the 1940s in which the US Public Health Service infected people in Guatemala with sexually transmitted infections without their knowledge or consent.

During its investigation, the commission learned there is currently no single database of people involved in federally funded research that is conducted around the world,

President Barack Obama apologised to the Guatemalan government last October, and directed the commission to investigate the experiment, make a report, and recommend protections for human subjects. The Guatemalan authorities are also conducting their own investigation. The commission will submit its report to the president this month and make recommendations on increased protection for people in research studies by December.

The Guatemala study was discovered by a Wellesley College historian, Susan Reverby, who was conducting research on the Tuskegee experiment in Alabama. In the Tuskegee study, poor black men who had syphilis were followed but not treated …

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