Following the disclosure in 2010 that several Guatemalans were exposed to sexually transmitted diseases without their consent, several parties initiated a class action lawsuit against the government. That lawsuit was eventually dismissed over the inability to sue the U.S. over actions conducted in another country. For details on the experiments, consult the report from The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.
The plaintiffs have not given up, yesterday they filed suit against Johns Hopkins University for its role in the exposures. Several Johns Hopkins researchers held positions in panels that reviewed federal funding for the studies at issue in the suit. Other defendants include the Rockefeller Foundation and Bristol-Meyers Squibb.
The suit is filed against these defendants apparently due to the affiliation several officials involved in the exposures had with the named institutions (or in the case of Bristol-Meyers Squibb, its predecessor companies). Both Johns Hopkins and The Rockefeller Foundation have denied that their institutions were involved in the experiments. Bristol-Meyers Squibb officials have declined to comment as of this writing. The suit alleges that the experiments were used as clinical trials for the predecessor companies’ products.
With the dismissal of the previous lawsuit, it is not clear that the current matter will be any more successful. Arguably the plaintiff’s case here will be harder, as holding an institutional affiliation will not likely be sufficient to demonstrate the institution was responsible for the conduct of particular individuals working for other organizations.