December 24

Moral turpitude: Herpes experiment surpasses Tuskegee

Moral turpitude: Herpes experiment surpasses Tuskegee.

December 24, 2002.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has awarded St. Louis University, close to $37 million to conduct an investigational herpes vaccine trial (Herpevac) on young women.

The experiment demonstrates that the moral culture in which American medical researchers practice has not improved since the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. That is because scientists are not deterred either by moral restraint or an effective law.

William Burke, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology at St. Louis expressed his outrage in a letter published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. (below)

As Dr. Burke indicated, the experiment requires that: “Half of the young women engage in behavior that, for the good of the experiment, the scientists expect will result in incurable infection.”

Unless responsible officials in the Bush administration intervene, researchers will be encouraging sexual promiscuity for science! Who will be responsible for the lifelong care of the subjects who will contract an incurable infection, and who will be responsible for the care of brain damaged offspring?


Letter: Questionable ethics in herpes vaccine trial


The herpes vaccine trial for which St. Louis University gets $37 million is a perfect model of experimental design. Both experimental and control groups engage repeatedly in the dangerous behavior that results in a serious infection.

The experimental group is treated with a vaccine known to protect against the infection. The control group is given an ineffective vaccine. The study determines which group will get higher rates of the incurable infection, which not only affects the subjects but can result in brain damage or death to their offspring.

Unfortunately, the subjects are not guinea pigs or rats, but human beings. They are someone’s daughter, someone’s sister.

The study solicits only those young women who are or who intend to become sexually promiscuous. Chaste young women and faithful wives need not apply.

In this type of experiment, it is customary to pay the participants for their inconvenience and for agreeing to be good subjects. However, in this case being a good subject means agreeing to repeatedly perform acts that are considered seriously immoral by the Catholic university that sponsors the experiment. This will surely scandalize and seem hypocritical to faithful Catholics.

Finally, the experiment is reminiscent of the Tuskegee study of untreated syphilis. Half of the young women engage in behavior that, for the good of the experiment, the scientists expect will result in incurable infection. But these women will not receive the protective treatment, and therefore will be at risk of passing the brain-damaging virus to any future progeny.

Wouldn’t teaching chastity be a more effective, ethical, and appropriate way for a Catholic university to protect young women from this serious infection?

William J. Burke, M.D. Professor Department of Neurology SLUCare St. Louis

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