Guatemala Experiment Case Suffers New Setback
By BARBARA LEONARD
WASHINGTON (CN) – A woman accused of helping the U.S. government infect hundreds of Guatemalans with syphilis has full immunity from a class action, a federal judge ruled.
During the 40 years that the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory within the U.S. Public Health Service conducted limited experiments on black men already infected with syphilis in Tuskegee, Ala., it also secretly infected other human subjects. The agency set its sights on Guatemala after unsuccessfully trying to infect prisoners at a Terre Haute, Ind., federal penitentiary with gonorrhea, according to the March 2011 complaint.
A Presidential Commission of the Study of Bioethical Issues, convened by President Barack Obama in 2010, confirmed these claims.
One of the defendants, Mirta Roses Periago, director of the Pan-American Health Organization, formally the Pan-American Sanitary Bureau, had been served with a default after she had inexplicably failed to respond to the complaint within 60 days, ultimately waiting 10 months to make her first appearance in the case.
In June 2012, U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton found that all of the defendants, including Roses, had immunity.
Though he concluded that Roses’ delay had not prejudiced the case, Walton set a condition on clearing Roses, saying she would have to reimburse the plaintiffs’ reasonable fees and costs before he would vacate the clerk’s entry of default.
He removed that condition Tuesday after Roses argued that the court lacked authority to impose costs on her.
“Upon consideration of the parties’ supplemental briefs, the court concludes for the following reasons that the clerk’s entry of default against Roses was void from the outset based on Roses’s statutory immunity, and that the court therefore erred in attempting to place conditions on its vacatur of the entry of default,” he wrote. “Accordingly, the court will vacate in part its June 13, 2012 memorandum opinion and order and strike the clerk’s entry of default from the docket.