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The Obama Administration's Double Standard on Illegal Human Experimentation

by on October 5, 2010

Recent revelations that the US government conducted medical experiments in the 1940s in which Guatemalan soldiers, prisoners, and mental patients were intentionally infected with syphilis, gonorrhea, and other sexually transmitted diseases are truly horrific, and have generated widespread outrage and remorse.Top government officials — including President Obama, Secretary of State hillary Clinton, and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius — have rightfully been quick to apologize to the President, government, and people of Guatemala for "such reprehensible research" (quote from joint statement issued by Secretary Clinton and Secretary Sebelius) which represented gross and unconscionable violations of ethical standards of human subject research.The director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, has said the Guatemalan research “represents an appalling example from a dark chapter in the history of medicine,” and has assured that American public that “today, the regulations that govern research funded by the United States government, whether conducted domestically or internationally, would absolutely prohibit this type of study.”But PHR is not convinced of the truth of Collins’s statement. In a June 2010 report,?Experiments in Torture: Human Subject Research and Evidence of Experimentation in the ‘Enhanced’ Interrogation Program, PHR detailed and analyzed evidence indicating that the Bush administration may have conducted illegal human research and experimentation on people in CIA custody. The research, which apparently was used to insulate interrogators from potential prosecution and to standardize the use of torture, may have violated the Nuremberg Code and other standards of medical ethics.The Obama administration, so quick to disavow unethical human subject research that occurred more than 60 years ago in Guatemala, so far has proved unwilling to investigate allegations of medical research abuses that occurred within the past decade under the previous administration.Creation of a federal commission to investigate abuses in Guatemala is certainly a welcome step, but also serves to underline the Obama administration’s double standard for such inquiries. The US public should demand to know not only what happened in Guatemala in the 1940s, but also?what medical abuses might have been committed in our name during the past decade to people in CIA custody. Until those potential crimes are investigated, the administration’s apologies have a hollow ring indeed.

Places: Guatemala

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