Score one for justice: at the beginning of the year, a federal judge in Baltimore, Maryland said Johns Hopkins University, Big Pharma drugmaker Bristol-Myers Squibb, and the Rockefeller Foundation would face a $1 billion lawsuit over their roles in a 1940s U.S. government experiment that gave hundreds of Guatemalans syphilis. 


The experiment, purportedly conducted to better understand the treatment and prevention of STDs- with a focus on the drug penicillin, was a secret until 2010 when it was accidentally discovered by a professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

The lawsuit was first filed in 2018 and then dismissed but U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis suggested the victims’ attorneys refile. However, to do so the families had to outline the events of the experiment “including how and when the victims were experimented on, as well as the way in which it impacted their spouses, children, and grandchildren.”1

“The stories shared in the lawsuit are disturbing at best, dividing the victims into six different categories: people who were infected as part of the experimentation, the estates of these original victims, spouses, first-generation descendants, subsequent generate descendants and other relatives of those who died as a result of the diseases contracted from the studies. At least one story from each category was shared in the complaint, showing just how vast the impact of this experiment currently reaches.”2

The lawsuit alleges that the experiment involved employees and board members from each of the organizations named and a U.S. surgeon general. However, while the U.S. government has apologized to Guatemala “…the private institutions have not and have fought this every step of the way.”3 (Johns Hopkins said, “We feel profound sympathy for the individuals and families impacted, and reiterate that this 1940’s study in Guatemala was funded and conducted by the U.S. Government, not by Johns Hopkins. We will continue to vigorously defend the lawsuit.”4)


The experiment is incredibly similar to the well-known Syphilis Study at Tuskegee- utterly disgusting and a crime against humanity. However, it has been suggested that in this case, many of the infected didn’t even realize what had happened until President Barack Obama’s public apology to the Guatemalan president.


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