White House commission will review human research

Today, I am wearing my happy-with-the-government face. Why? Because somebody, somewhere in Washington, seems to have realized that the past actually has an impact on the present.

Back in October, I told you about a long-buried bit of immoral, federally-funded research only recently shoved into the harsh light of day by Wellesley College professor Susan Reverby. During the late 1940s, American scientists deliberately infected hundreds of unwitting Guatemalans with syphilis and gonorrhea, in order to study the effects of penicillin. As far as anyone can tell, most of the infected were later cured, but that doesn't really make the study any less morally disgusting.

The current US government publicly apologized almost as soon as it was informed about the old study. And I figured that bare-minimum mea culpa would be the end of it. Instead, it's looking like we might actually get some proactive responses out of this debacle. Last week, the White House ordered a broad review of the current standards for human research. Rather than just blowing off the Guatemala experiment as "stuff we don't do anymore", the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues is apparently going to take steps to make sure that's true. The review is set to begin in January. Ladies and gentlemen, I think we may have learned some kind of lesson here!

Click here for a synopsis of the Guatemala study, or read the full report.