Havasupai tribe files $50M suit against ASU
By LARRY HENDRICKS
03/16/2004 – The Arizona Sun
Two weeks on the heels of a $25 million lawsuit filed by 52 members
of the Havasupai tribe, the tribe itself filed a $50 million lawsuit
Friday in Coconino County Superior Court against Arizona State
University, the Arizona Board of Regents and three ASU professors.
Both suits claim that more than 400 blood samples taken from tribal
members between 1990 and 1994 were supposed to be used to study
the tribe's concerns with diabetes. No permission was given for
the samples to be used in research on inbreeding, schizophrenia
and theories about ancient human population migrations to North
The Arizona Attorney General's Office, representing ABOR and
ASU, has not filed a response to the suits because the suits have
yet to be formally served.
Both suits specifically name every ABOR member, including the
two "ex officio" members, Gov. Janet Napolitano, and
Tom Horne, state superintendent of schools.
The suits claim a lack of oversight by ASU's Institutional Review
Board, which violated federal and state law, allowed the unauthorized
studies using the blood samples to occur.
"We've had no formal service on (the suits)," said Richard
Albrecht, assistant Attorney General.
According to Arizona law, once a suit is filed, the filer has
up to 120 days to formally serve the suit on the suee. During
that time, the suit may be amended.
Albrecht was assigned to the Havasupai tribal claim, which is
the precursor to a lawsuit. He said he is aware of the individual
member lawsuit but he was unaware the tribe filed suit as well.
Whether the claims in the suits have any merit, Albrecht said
he was not ready to say.
"We're still evaluating the claims," said Albrecht.
"Obviously, there are concerns on the part of the university
as to what happened."
Once the Attorney General's Office is served with the suits, a
response to those suits will be made, Albrecht said.
Attorneys for the tribe could not be reached for comment Monday.
According to the suits, which make nearly identical claims, professors
John Martin, Therese Markow and Daniel Benyshek helped create
and implement a diabetes project at the request of the tribe.
The project was supposed to offer three components: Diabetes education,
collecting and testing blood samples from members to identify
diabetics or people who are susceptible to the disease, and conducting
genetic testing to see if members were more susceptible to the
In 2003, a tribal member approached ASU administrators and asked
if the blood samples had been used for research other than that
agreed to by the tribal members. An independent investigation
was begun. That investigation revealed the following: Tribal members
were misled. The tribal members gave blood specifically for the
Diabetes Project, they were not offered nor did they give informed
consent to any other research.
The independent investigation uncovered "... numerous unauthorized
studies, experiments and projects by various universities and
laboratories throughout the United States ..." that resulted
in at least 23 scholarly papers, articles and dissertations that
involved the Havasupai blood samples. Fifteen of those publications
dealt with subjects that had nothing to do with diabetes -- like
schizophrenia, inbreeding and theories about ancient human population
migration to North America.
The tribal members did not give their "informed consent"
for the use of the blood samples for any studies other than diabetes.
Tribal members were also unaware of Markow's unauthorized access
to more than 100 of their medical records to look for signs of
schizophrenia. Professors also collected hand prints "under
false pretense" to study diabetes when in fact they were
The blood samples were lost or destroyed through mishandling.
The suits claim "wholesale transfer of blood samples from
laboratory to laboratory and university to university for over
a decade to the extent that many blood samples cannot be accounted
for at this time."
Additionally, samples were allowed to spoil, and documentation
of the research was either lost or destroyed.
The ASU Institutional Review Board is the agency that establishes
and approves written protocols for federally funded research projects
at the university, and must review, monitor and approve all research
involving human subjects to make sure that research functions
within the law.
The suits also request a stop of all use and transfer of the
blood samples, genealogy information and hand prints and preventing
any further publication or sharing of that information.
Larry Hendricks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 2004 Arizona Daily Sun