A presidential bioethics commission convened this week to provide input on ethical considerations in federally funded international medical studies. With 40 percent to 65 percent of U.S. clinical trials conducted overseas, concern over exploitation is a major focus of the panel's work. The panel grew out of the revelation in October of an experiment U.S. scientists conducted in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, intentionally infecting unconsenting study patients with syphilis. The shocking Guatemala study protocol provoked even more outrage than the notorious Tuskegee experiment as it called for infecting healthy patients with disease.
The 40-year Tuskegee experiment, conducted from 1932 to 1972, is one of the most notorious abuses in scientific experimentation on human subjects. In that study, scientists enrolled 400 black American men infected with syphilis in a study without disclosing to them the nature of their condition. When penicillin became available for treatment 15 years into the study, these men were not offered the treatment; instead the disease was allowed to run its course in the name of science.