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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsHistory, Ethics and the Presidential Commission on Research in Guatemala (Papers: Barry Lyons 2014)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

History, Ethics and the Presidential Commission on Research in Guatemala (Papers: Barry Lyons 2014)

 


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Abstract: In 2010, President Obama instructed the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to enquire into research carried out by the US Public Health Service in Guatemala between 1946 and 1948. These studies entailed the deliberate inoculation of unconsenting prisoners, mental asylum patients and soldiers, with venereal disease. There was also evidence of deception and secrecy. The Commission’s report describes the research as heinous, egregious, unconscionable and unjustifiable, and identified those responsible as morally blameworthy. However, this article argues that the Commission was deficient in its historical analysis, and failed to appreciate particular disease and temporal factors that might cast the research in a slightly different light. This is not to exculpate the researchers, but rather to critique the Commission’s analysis. The straightforward narrative woven by the Commission does not accurately reflect the muddy ethical waters of the time, nor the utilitarian ethos that pervaded particular research agendas. The creation of a facile story denies to us a proper understanding of why events unfolded as they did, and as a consequence a potential lack of comprehension of those elements that might prevent unethical and harmful research practices from being conducted in the future.

Lyons B (2014) History, Ethics and the Presidential Commission on Research in Guatemala. Public Health Ethics doi: 10.1093/phe/phu019
Publisher: http://phe.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2014/07/25/phe.phu019



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