3 Well-Known Agencies Face $1B Lawsuit Over 1940s Syphilis Experiment

3 Well-Known Agencies Face $1B Lawsuit Over 1940s Syphilis Experiment

Bristol-Myers Squibb, the Rockefeller Foundation and Johns Hopkins University are facing a $1 billion lawsuit for roles they had in the 1940s regarding a medical experiment that led to hundreds of Guatemalans being infected with syphilis.

The goal of the experiment was to learn if penicillin was a suitable treatment option for the sexually transmitted disease.

In 2015, about 775 Guatemalan victims and their relatives filed a civil suit, claiming the experiment subjected them and family members to the disease without their consent.

The defense argued that a recent ruling by the Supreme Court that protected foreign entities from answering U.S. human rights abuse lawsuits was also applied to domestic companies. However, U.S. District Judge Theodore Chuang did not agree with the argument and said the case would move ahead to ensure harmony and allow foreign plaintiffs the chance to get justice.

Wellesley College professor Dr. Susan Reverby discovered notes about the unethical experiment that public health services sexual disease specialist John Charles Culter had still in his possession at the time of his death. According to the notes, mental patients, convicts, prostitutes and soldiers were experimented on.

In 2010, former U.S. President Barack Obama apologized to those affected by the experiment, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called them unethical.

Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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