IN the late 1940s, researchers from the United States Public Health Service, in cooperation with the Guatemalan government, carried out experiments on Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers, sex workers and patients in a mental institution, exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases without their consent, in order to develop new methods of prevention. Research involving intentional exposure to infectious pathogens had been done before, and still occurs today, but with ethical safeguards that were not in place in Guatemala. What happened there was wrong because of the lack of individual consent, the subjects’ vulnerability and the degrading nature of some research methods; in addition, the science was shoddy and the record-keeping so poor that it is hard to know how many Guatemalans were exposed to infection, successfully infected or adequately treated, let alone precisely who the subjects were.
Nonetheless, Guatemalans claiming to be research victims and their heirs brought a class-action suit in federal court last year seeking compensation, after unsuccessfully urging the government to set up a claims process like that of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. On June 13, the United States District Court for the District of Columbia rejected their claims on jurisdictional and technical grounds.They argue that the United States should do more for those Guatemalans who were experimented on without their knowledge during research carried out in the 1940s. While the US has apologized and has delivered some financial support, it just hasn't done enough to assist those who were directly affected by the program.