Guatemala medical experimentation victims to appeal dismissal of suit

[JURIST] Seven Guatemalans who alleged that they had been the subject of non-consensual human medical experimentation by the US Public Health Service (PHS) [official websites] in the 1940s appealed the dismissal [JURIST report] of their lawsuit to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] on Monday. The Guatemalans' suit was dismissed in June because the court found that under the Federal Tort Claims Act [text] the US government is specifically exempt from liability for torts that occur outside of the US. The Guatemalans allege that they were deliberately infected [AP report] without their consent with sexually transmitted diseases in order to test the effects of penicillin. The Guatemalan government had reportedly requested that the US government provide out-of-court settlements before the lawsuit was filed, but the US did not respond except to apologize for the research.

The victims filed a class action lawsuit [JURIST report] in March 2011. The suit was brought on behalf of all individuals who were subjected to experimentation in Guatemala or were infected to be used as vehicles to infect test subjects for the venereal disease experiments. The complaint alleges that the PHS conducted the human medical experiments in Guatemala to test whether penicillin could also be used as a prophylaxis immediately following exposure to the syphilis bacteria. The plaintiffs sought relief under the Alien Tort Statute [28 USC § 1350], the Fifth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment [materials]. Evidence of the PHS program [report] was discovered by Professor Susan Reverby [academic profile]. US President Barack Obama [official website] apologized [BBC report] to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom for the testing. Reverby's study shows that the PHS infected more than 700 people in Guatemala with syphilis and gonorrhea. The patients were prisoners and people suffering from mental health problems and were unaware they were being tested.

 

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