Over 750 victims have sued The Rockefeller Foundation, the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and the Johns Hopkins Health System Corporation, alleging that they were the driving force behind human experiments in which vulnerable populations of Guatemalans were deceived and intentionally exposed to syphilis, gonorrhea and other venereal diseases and pathogens, without giving any informed consent.

The experiments targeted school children, orphans, psychiatric hospital patients, prison inmates and military conscripts.  

“This seems like something right out of Dr. Mengele’s notebook.”  That is how Bradley Stoner, MD, past President of the American Sexually Transmitted Disease Association, has described these Guatemala experiments in public statements, comparing them to the Nazi medical experiments inflicted upon Jews in Auschwitz during the Second World War.  

The Obama Administration apologized to Guatemala for the Guatemala Experiments in 2010.  The Administration tasked the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to investigate the experiments. The details of the experiments were deliberately hidden from the world until the Commission published its report in September 2011, confirming that barbaric human experiments constituting human rights violations occurred, for example: prostitutes were infected with venereal disease and then provided for sex to subjects for intentional transmission of the disease; subjects were inoculated by injection of syphilis spirochetes into the spinal fluid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, under the skin, and on mucous membranes; an emulsion containing syphilis or gonorrhea was spread under the foreskin of the penis in male subjects; the penis of male subjects was scraped or scarified and then coated with the emulsion containing syphilis or gonorrhea; a woman from the psychiatric hospital was injected with syphilis, developed skin lesions and wasting, and then had gonorrheal pus from a male subject injected into both of her eyes.  Many of the Guatemalans developed venereal disease.  Most were never treated.

Researchers subjected the Guatemalans to repeated blood draws, lumbar punctures and cisternal punctures of the suboccipital portion of the brain, gynecological examinations, touching and penetration of sexual organs, and forced or coerced sexual contact.  

The Guatemala victims have also sued pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb, which supplied penicillin necessary for the Guatemala Experiments. 

The Guatemala Experiments do not appear to be an aberration for Rockefeller and Johns Hopkins.  

Key Rockefeller and Johns Hopkins researchers involved in the Guatemala Experiments, were also behind the now infamous Tuskegee experiments, in which 600 impoverished African-American sharecroppers were never informed they had syphilis, and were given placebos rather than real medicine.  The researchers watched while the experiment subjects wasted away and infected their wives and children with the disease. The Tuskegee experiments were halted after being exposed by a whistleblower.

In 1969, Hopkins researchers took blood samples from thousands of children from poor African-American families, to look for a genetic predisposition to criminal behavior.  They subjected the children to stigmatizing testing, psychological assessments and blood draws in a 3-year experiment that could have branded them as criminals for life.  The Hopkins researchers did not obtain informed consent. Parents were told that the blood samples were taken to test for anemia and other medical problems.  The American Civil Liberties Union sued Hopkins, which forced it to halt the experiments until it had obtained informed consent.

In the 1990s, Hopkins-affiliated researchers treated units of decrepit housing for lead contamination to varying degrees, then encouraged the landlords of the units to rent them to families with children so that they could monitor the children’s lead levels as well as the brain and developmental damage that resulted from different kinds of lead abatement programs.  All of the families involved were African-American.  Parents were offered $15 payments to induce their participation in the experiment, but were not informed that it placed their children at risk of lead exposure. In fact, literature supplied to the parents misleadingly suggested the experiment was protecting their children from lead damage, and promised to inform them of any hazards. The Hopkins Institutional Review Board had approved the experiment.  Two of the families sued Hopkins, claiming that its researchers had knowingly exposed their children to lead, and had not promptly informed them when blood tests revealed that their children had elevated blood levels, even when one developed lead poisoning.  The Maryland Court of Appeals compared these experiments to the Tuskegee experiments and Nazi human experimentation and noted: “The IRB was willing to aid researchers in getting around regulations designed to protect children used as subjects in non-therapeutic research.”  The Court warned Hopkins: “the scientific and medical communities cannot be permitted to assume sole authority to determine ultimately what is right and appropriate in respect of research projects involving children free of the limitations and consequences of the application of Maryland law.”  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also investigated and determined Hopkins had failed to obtain informed consent from its human subjects. 

In 2000, the Office for Human Research Protection (OHRP) of DHHS was created to monitor federally funded human experimentation and protect the lives of human subjects. In 2001, OHRP suspended all human medical experimentation at Hopkins after it killed 24 year-old Ellen Roche in an asthma experiment.  Hopkins researchers had administered the chemical hexamethonium to Ms. Roche via inhalation, even though there were widely publicized reports that inhaling the chemical caused death. Within 24 hours of inhaling the chemical, Ms. Roche had lost one-third of her lung capacity, and within one month she was dead. The OHRP investigators found that Hopkins had failed to disclose to its subjects the risk of fatality.  They found multiple instances in which the risks outlined in application forms used for obtaining approval for the human experiments were different from those disclosed in consent forms presented to and signed by human subjects.  The consent forms called hexamethonium a “medication” even though the Food and Drug Administration had forbidden its use as a medication years before in 1972, and even though when it was approved for use as a medication it was not approved for use in an inhaled form.  Further, the language used in the consent forms was unnecessarily complex and difficult to understand.  

The investigators found that Hopkins had failed to supervise human experiments throughout the institution, even after being warned by the OHRP.  An OHRP official said: “We don’t do this lightly.  In this case, they [OHRP investigators] found broad systematic problems throughout the Hopkins institutions.  Because of the potential risk to human lives, we had to suspend the trials….  The bottom line is we found serious problems with their procedures to protect human lives during trials.  This is not a paper-pushing procedure. This is about protecting people’s lives.”     

The Hopkins clinic headed by Dr. Moore during the Guatemala Experiments was known as “Medicine L” and focused exclusively on venereal disease, especially the primary scourge of the day, syphilis. The clinic was named “the Moore Clinic” in 1957 upon the death of Dr. Moore. Today, it is named “the Moore Clinic for HIV Care” and its singular focus is on the treatment and study of the modern scourge of HIV and AIDS.   A number of the more recent human experiments conducted by Hopkins that are problematic and are summarized below involve HIV and AIDS.  

The non-profit human experimentation watchdog the Rebecca Project reports that commencing in 1989, in an NIH-funded experiment horrifyingly similar to the Tuskegee experiments and the Guatemala Experiments, Hopkins researchers recruited thousands of adults and children in Rakai, Uganda and tested them periodically for HIV.  The Hopkins researchers did not inform those infected with HIV that they were infected.  The Hopkins researchers then followed HIV discordant couples (one spouse infected, the other not infected) who were not aware of their situation to study spouse-to-spouse HIV transmission.  The Hopkins researchers also followed pregnant and breastfeeding HIV-positive women to study mother-to-child HIV transmission.  The Hopkins researchers followed other HIV-positive participants who did not know they were infected to study their HIV-related sickness and death.  The Hopkins researchers did not offer antiretroviral medications to treat the HIV infections, or prophylaxis to prevent the spreading of infections. The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine criticized the study and noted “such a study could not have been performed in the United States.”  This assessment is haunting, as Rockefeller Trustee Thomas Parran is noted to have said of the Guatemala Experiments, “You know, we couldn’t do such an experiment in this country.” 

The Rebecca Project reports that from 1997 to 2001, Hopkins researchers enrolled 4,495 HIV-positive mothers in a USAID-funded experiment within four days of delivery, and then followed mothers and babies for up to two years, observing HIV infections and deaths in the children.  The Hopkins researchers did not warn the HIV-positive mothers that they were infected and could infect their children through breastfeeding. As a result, 141 HIV-positive mothers infected their babies with HIV between the sixth and twenty-fourth months after delivery.

The Rebecca Project reports that from 1997 to 2001, Hopkins researchers recruited 626 pregnant HIV-positive women in Uganda, and used them to test the effects of the drugs Nevirapine and AZT in preventing the vertical transmission of HIV.  An internal NIH report, the OHRP and the Center for Research on Multinational Corporations documented various dangerous flaws  in the experiments, including the failure to obtain proper informed consent, and the failure to detect, record, monitor and report thousands of adverse events, including fatal and life-threatening problems.  Fourteen deaths were not reported. 

The Rebecca Project reports that from 2003 to 2007, and continuing into 2103, Hopkins researchers recruited 9,618 men and women into an experiment funded by the NIH and the Gates Foundation. The men were assigned to an intervention group (they were circumcised) and to a control group (they remained intact).  The researchers followed HIV discordant couples who were not informed that one of them was HIV-positive, to study the effect of circumcision.  The study showed that circumcised men acquired HIV only 49% as fast as uncircumcised men, and that the female partners of circumcised men acquired HIV only 49% as fast the female partners of uncircumcised men.  The protocol did not require that men who became HIV-positive be informed about their HIV status, or even if educated that they inform their unsuspecting female partners.  

Johns Hopkins is said to have the largest international health research and practice portfolio of any university in the U.S.  It is estimated that today, there are 818 Hopkins medical projects led by 209 Hopkins faculty members operating in 119 countries.    

The case has been filed in the Circuit Court in Baltimore City, Maryland.  The victims are represented by three law firms: Meridian 361 International Law Group, PLLC of Portland, Maine; Escritorio Juridico Rodriguez Fajardo y Asociados of Caracas, Republica Bolivariana de Venezuela; and Salsbury, Clements, Bekman, Marder & Adkins of Baltimore, Maryland.  

Contact us for more information:

F. R. Jenkins, Esq.
Matthew R. Caton, Esq.