Johns Hopkins Faces $1-Billion Lawsuit Over U.S. Experiments in Guatemala

Nearly 800 former research subjects and their families filed a billion-dollar lawsuit on Wednesday against the Johns Hopkins University, blaming the institution for its role in U.S.-government experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s that infected hundreds of people with sexually transmitted diseases, The Sun reported.

In an earlier lawsuit, the victims sought to hold top U.S. officials responsible, but a federal judge dismissed that case in 2012. The new lawsuit seeks to hold the university responsible because its doctors held key roles on panels that reviewed and approved federal spending on the experiments. The suit, filed in a state court in Baltimore, also names the Rockefeller Foundation and the drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb as defendants.

Johns Hopkins officials called the experiments “deplorable” and “unconscionable,” while a Rockefeller spokesman labeled them “morally repugnant.” Both institutions said that they had no role in designing, paying for, or carrying out the research, and that they would fight the lawsuit.

Details of the experiments were brought to light in 2010 by Susan M. Reverby, a professor of women’s and gender studies and a historian at Wellesley College. The United States formally apologized in a joint statement from Hillary Rodham Clinton, then secretary of state, and Kathleen Sebelius, then secretary of health and human services, who called the research reprehensible and “clearly unethical.”

President Obama called Álvaro Colom, then president of Guatemala, to personally express that apology, the White House said. He also directed the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to investigate the experiments and to study whether existing federal guidelines were sufficient for protecting human research subjects.

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