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Dr Gutmann at the hearing

Prompted by concerns about an unethical U.S.-sponsored study in the 1940s, bioethics advisers to President Barack Obama formed an international panel today that will examine whether current rules adequately protect volunteers in global clinical trials.

A historian at Wellesley College shocked the nation last October with the revelation that, from 1946 to 1948, a U.S. Public Health Service researcher deliberately exposed Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers, and others to syphilis and gonorrhea. The experiments drew comparisons with Tuskegee, the notorious 40-year study in Alabama begun in 1932 in which U.S. researchers allowed hundreds of African-American men with syphilis to go untreated.

In response, President Obama asked his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to examine whether "current rules for research participants protect people from harm or unethical treatment, domestically as well as internationally." Obama also asked the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to investigate the Guatemala study. But that fact-finding job also fell to the bioethics commission after IOM realized that five of its members had been involved in the study. The commission is chaired by University of Pennsylvania President Amy...