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The Desperate Letter
magazine online, here is the memo ASU President Michael Crow received from the scientist who initiated the Havasupai blood project.
If ever a memorandum stopped hearts, it had to be the one marked “urgent” on May 11, 2003, from Arizona State University anthropology professor John Martin.
It went right to the top, addressed to President Michael Crow, Provost Milton Glick and David Young, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
The “RE:” line would have taken anyone’s breath away: “Havasupai Tribe Press Conference on ASU Researchers’ Misuse of Havasupai Blood/DNA.”
“Their airing in public will seriously embarrass ASU, worsen the already tense, almost hostile relationship between genetic researchers and Indian tribes, and make all and especially biomedical work with Indians more difficult,” he wrote.
Already, Martin noted, the Havasupai had closed the reservation to ASU and ended a research project that had been ongoing for 13 years.
Martin added it was because he was so “trusted” by the tribe that he was approached to help them with their “diabetes epidemic” in 1989 and therefore brought this project to ASU. “The Havasupai enthusiastically endorsed genetic research on diabetes,” he wrote. “Almost the entire adult population volunteered blood because they believed it would be used for that purpose. Yet no genetic research on diabetes genes was undertaken.”
Instead, he wrote, the blood was used to do studies on schizophrenia and migration patterns and, furthermore, was distributed to other research laboratories, such as the University of Arizona, Stanford and Berkeley. “None of these researchers was known to the Havasupai,” Martin wrote. “Their blood was thus used and transferred to other researchers without their consent.”
Martin warned that tribal attorneys felt “ASU was stonewalling.” He suggested it would “take the immediate personal intervention of President Crow” to stop the news conference that so frightened him. He was so bold as to provide phone numbers and suggest “President Crow should pick up the telephone and call both the tribal attorney… and chair of the Havasupai Tribal Council to ask for a postponement and the opportunity to personally hear the tribe’s complaints and address them himself.”
Martin still held hope that this problem could be resolved. He wrote, “In my view an apology for any errors, mistakes or oversights by ASU and help in getting the blood/DNA repatriated could end this and even provide the basis for President Crow to use these events to advance his Indian and genetic initiatives.”
Instead, the issue ended up in court. The lawsuits between ASU, the Arizona Board of Regents and the Havasupai tribe are now five years old.
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