Hopkins faces $1B lawsuit over role in government study that gave subjects STDs image

The Baltimore Sun, April 1, 2015
Scott Dance, quoting Holly F. Lynch (Executive Director) and I. Glenn Cohen (Faculty Director)

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Nearly 800 former research subjects and their families filed a billion-dollar lawsuit Wednesday against the Johns Hopkins University, blaming the institution for its role in 1940s government experiments in Guatemala that infected hundreds with syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases. [...] 

Legal experts said the lawsuit's arguments could be a stretch. Today, professors who frequently serve on a volunteer basis with the National Institutes of Health, for example, are generally considered to be acting independently and not in their capacity as university faculty, said Holly Fernandez Lynch, executive director of the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology and Bioethics at Harvard University Law School. 

[...] Because the experiments occurred so long ago, most if not all of the subjects are dead, and it could be difficult for someone to prove that a relative was part of the study, Lynch said. She and colleague I. Glenn Cohen, a professor at Harvard Law School, argued in a 2012 New York Times opinion piece that the Tuskegee experiment and others provide precedent for a fair recourse.

In the Tuskegee case, a legal settlement included lifetime medical benefits for study subjects and their wives, widows and children, as well as federal grants to promote research and health care ethics, they said. U.S. aid applied directly to Guatemalan health could be appropriate in this case, Lynch said.

"Congress and the [Obama] administration must step up more than they have, by offering financial restitution to Guatemalans with plausible claims of harm," Lynch and Cohen wrote. "Even if the lawsuits were appropriately dismissed, justice has not been done."

bioethics holly fernandez lynch human rights human subjects research i. glenn cohen public health