Bioethics Blogs

Ethically Sound Episode 7: Moral Science

“Moral Science,” the seventh episode of the Bioethics Commission’s podcast series Ethically Sound, is now available. Ethically Sound is based on the 10 reports that the Bioethics Commission has produced during its tenure. Established in 2009 by Executive Order, the Bioethics Commission has addressed a variety of ethical challenges ranging from whole genome sequencing to public health planning and response. This episode is based on the Bioethics Commission’s third report Moral Science: Protecting Participants in Human Subjects Research.

In what is now recognized as an infamous episode in the history of research ethics, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) conducted unethical sexually transmitted disease (STD) experiments in Guatemala from 1946 through 1948. The Guatemala STD experiments were carried out with ongoing oversight by PHS and with the approval and engagement of Guatemalan government officials. They involved intentionally exposing and infecting 1,308 person from vulnerable Guatemalan populations—prisoners, soldiers, sex workers, and psychiatric patients—to disease, without their consent. When these studies were revealed in 2010, President Barack Obama extended an apology to the President and people of Guatemala, and charged the Bioethics Commission to conduct an ethical analysis of the research that took place, and to review current federal regulations to protect research participants. The Bioethics Commission addressed the first part of this charge in its report Ethically Impossible: STD Research in Guatemala from 1946-1948. Moral Science addressed the second part of this charge. The commission found that the kinds of unethical conduct that occurred during the studies conducted in Guatemala from 1946-1948 could not occur under today’s federal protections for research participants.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.