Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical schools in the United States is being sued for $1 billion over a study it conducted in Guatemala from 1945 to 1956 on venereal diseases.
There are 750 plaintiffs who were either subjects in the study, or their spouses or children.
The plaintiffs were deliberately infected with syphilis, gonorrhea and other diseases without their knowledge.
The study that was designed and conducted by Johns Hopkins and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, who are also named in the suit, had the goal of determining whether or not penicillin could prevent the diseases.
The suit also claims that the companies that later merged to become the pharmaceutical giant Bristol-Myers Squib supplied the penicillin used in the experiment which they knew would be conducted without the knowledge or consent of the participants.
According to the lawsuit, the participants were never aware of how they had been infected or the consequences of being infected.
Nor did the participants receive any follow-up medical care related to the diseases they had been forced to contract by Johns Hopkins and were not informed on how they could spread their infection to others in their communities.
The participants in this study, were primarily orphans, some as young as nine-years-old, prisoners and mental patients.
Ultimately, the program published no findings, and was either kept secret or forgotten until 2010, when it was discovered.
The details of the experiment are very dark and gruesome to say the least.
The lawsuit alleges some of the following occurred gruesome practices during the experiments:
Prostitutes were infected with venereal disease and then provided for sex to subjects for intentional transmission of the disease and one woman who was infected with syphilis had gonorrhea injected into her eyes.
Both Johns Hopkins and the Rockefeller Foundation have denied any involvement in the experiments and both claim that it was the United States government that conducted the study.
In a statement published on their website the Rockefeller Foundation states that
“the lawsuit attempts to connect the Foundation to the experiments through misleading characterizations of relationships between the Foundation and individuals who were in some way associated with the experiments.”
Dr. Thomas Parran, who was Surgeon General of the U.S. at the time is the one who the lawsuit claims approved the experiments and he also sat on the Rockefeller Foundation Board of Trustees at the time.
A Federal Torts claim made by the survivors of the study was made in 2012 but was dismissed.
“US government is specifically exempt from liability for torts that occur outside of the US,” the court ruled.
Johns Hopkins said that it would vigorously defend itself in the lawsuit.
“Johns Hopkins expresses profound sympathy for individuals and families impacted by the deplorable 1940s syphilis study conducted by the U.S. government in Guatemala,” said the university in a statement.
“The plaintiffs’ essential claim in this case is that prominent Johns Hopkins faculty members’ participation on a government committee that reviewed funding applications was tantamount to conducting the research itself and that therefore Johns Hopkins should be held liable. Neither assertion is true,” the statement continued.