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Blum Center | News & Announcements


Congressman Raúl Grijalva press release "Justice for STD Experiment Victims in Guatemala" addresses the many injustices that Guatemalan people have suffered and how strengthening the Common Rule is key to ensure proper consensual procedures for future medical human experiments.  

Experiments that would never be approved in the United States are outsourced to places where there is less scrutiny. At present, such studies can be carried out in Central and South America, Eastern Europe, or Africa. To this very day, the medical professionals we trust to care for us can instead treat human beings like lab rats, for example, administering placebos to sick people when a known cure exists.

The series of STD experiments in Guatemala beginning in the 1940s involved more than 5,000 people, including children, orphans, child and adult sex-workers, Guatemalan Indians, leprosy patients, mental patients, prisoners, and soldiers. This shameful experiment has left a devastating legacy, since untreated syphilis also infects children, passing from one generation to the next. The Guatemalan Government's report on the study called it a crime against humanity, and noted that racism and discrimination permeated the experiments. 

As indicated by Congressman Grijalva, The Common Rule needs to be stronger in defining informed consent for medical human experiments, and it is virtually silent on the unique questions of such research in developing countries, including whether consent can be truly voluntary in regions with autocratic governments that benefit from the money and prestige that come from hosting research sponsored by nations like ours. (To read the entire press release, click HERE)

Moving Forward:

A petition for the victims of U.S. and Guatemalan experiments that infected vulnerable Guatemalans with venereal diseases was filed on December 14th, 2015 in the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the Office of Human Rights for the Archdiocese of Guatemala, represented by the UC Irvine School of Law International Human Rights Clinic and The City Project of Los Angeles.

Petitioners are legally represented by the International Human Rights Clinic at the University of California-Irvine Law School, directed by international human rights attorneys Paul Hoffman and Catherine Sweetser. The petition has been filed against the U.S. and Guatemala at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C., claiming violations of the rights to life, health, freedom from torture, and crimes against humanity under both the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, and the American Convention on Human Rights.

To the governments credit, both the U.S. and Guatemala later apologized and issued reports about the unethical medical experiments. Under the direction of President Barack Obama, the U.S. established a Commission to investigate and expose the crimes, publishing a report in 2011 on the findings called Ethically Impossible: STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948. However, the petitioners attempts to hold the perpetrators accountable in U.S. civil courts was unavailing the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided that the victims were too late, since the accountable governmental authorities had already left office. Jessenia Ovalle, an attorney in Guatemala working for the Office of Human Rights for the Archdiocese of Guatemala, states that the ultimate goal of the petition is truth and justice for the Guatemalan victims' families of these experiments through comprehensive and dignified reparations. Another federal case is pending in Baltimore against the private entities involved, but not against the government entities. (To read the entire article, click HERE)