Almost 800 people have filed a $1 billion lawsuit against the Johns Hopkins Hospital System Corp over its role in a series of medical experiments in Guatemala between 1945 and 1956.
Hundreds were unwittingly infected with syphilis, gonorrhoea and other infections as part of a study into sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) which was conducted by the US Government.
The Rockefeller Foundation and pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb are also a defendants in the case.
The Independent reports: The former research subjects were infected in Guatemala as part of a study looking at ways of preventing STDs spreading. The law suit filed by the participants alleges that the university had “substantial influence” over the studies by controlling some panels that advised the federal government on how to spend research funds.
It claims that John Hopkins and the Rockefeller Foundation, which is also named as a defendant, “exercised control over, supervised, supported, encouraged, participated in and directed the course of the experiments”, according to the Associated Press.
Both John Hopkins and Rockefeller Foundation have said they denied paying for or conducting the study and accused lawyers for the plaintiff exploiting a “historic tragedy” for financial gain. John Hopkins said it will vigorously defend the suit.
Paul Bekman, one of the lawyers representing the participants and their families, said: “The people involved were icons at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Rockefeller Foundation.
“They knew about it, they were architects of it, they planned it, they sought funding for it, they kept it under the radar. Hopkins provided syphilitic rabbits that were used to inject individuals with syphilis.”
The suit alleges that experiments were carried out on women, soldiers and patients with mental health issues. The tests involved allowing participants to have sex with infected women or by using needles to open wounds that could be infected.
Children were also included in the study but not deliberately exposed to the diseases.
Some plaintiffs attempted to sue US government officials in 2011, but the case was thrown out on the basis that the Government could not be held accountable for what was committed in another country. It apologised to victims in 2010 for the “reprehensible research” conducted “under the guise of public health”.
Some plaintiffs attempted to sue US government officials in 2011, but the case was thrown out on the basis that the Government could not be held accountable for acts committed in another country.
In a statement, John Hopkins said: “Johns Hopkins did not initiate, pay for, direct or conduct the study in Guatemala. No non-profit university or hospital has ever been held liable for a study conducted by the US Government.