"Ethically Impossible" STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948

Following the revelation last fall that the PHS supported research on sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, President Obama asked the Bioethics Commission to oversee a thorough fact-finding investigation into the studies. Commission staff carefully reviewed more than 125,000 original pages of documents and approximately 550 secondary sources collected from public and private archives around the country. Commission staff also completed a fact finding trip to Guatemala and met with Guatemala’s own internal investigation committee.

The PHS research involved intentionally exposing and infecting vulnerable populations to sexually transmitted diseases without the subjects’ consent. “In the Commission’s view, the Guatemala experiments involved unconscionable basic violations of ethics, even as judged against the researchers’ own recognition of the requirements of the medical ethics of the day,” Commission Chair Amy Gutmann, Ph.D., said. “The individuals who approved, conducted, facilitated and funded these experiments are morally culpable to various degrees for these wrongs.”

The full report, "Ethically Impossible" STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, also includes the Commission’s ethical analysis of the case.

Ethically Impossible Report Cover