Robert H. Turtle, 40, a lawyer who helped draw up guidelines for medical experiments involving human beings, died at his home in Washington Sunday following a heart attack.
Mr. Turtle was named a member of the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects for Biomedical and Behavioral Research in 1974. The commission was set up by the federal government to advise federal agencies on experiments involving humans.
It was created after it became known that federal funds were used in programs where research was done on aborted fetuses without the knowledge of the parents, where retarded persons were sterilized without fully understanding what was happening to them, and where penicillin was withheld from persons suffering from syphillis for experimental purposes.
Mr. Turtle was particularly concerned about the use of children as research subjects. In a recent commission report he wrote:
"There are some societies which do not grant equal value to the sick and the healthy. It has always been my assumption that our society was not among them and that we considered that we had a special need to protect and assist those who . . . might be at a disadvantage or most vulnerable."
During the swine flu crisis, Mr. Turtle played a role in persuading the government to inform the public of the possible risks in getting inoculated against the disease as well as of the potential benefits.
A partner in the law firm of vorn Baur, Coburn, Simmons and Turtle, which he joined 10 years ago, Mr. Turtle was a specialist in government contract and grant law. He also had taken a number of cases without fee on behalf of the American Civil Liberites Union.
Mr. Turtle was born in New York City. He graduated from Queens College and from Columbia University Law School, where he was an editor of the Columbia Law Review. He practiced law in New York and then served in the Air Force as a deputy assistant general council.
After leaving the Air Force in 1965, he worked in the departments of the Air Force and of Health, Education and Welfare before beginning private law practice in Washington.
He was a member of the D.C., New York and California bar associations.
Survivors include his wife, Susan, and five children, Robert, Anne, Sarah, Elizabeth Turtle, of Laguna Beach, Cal.; and a brother, Joel, and a sister, Cindy, both of Los Angeles.
The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the Cardiac Care Unit, Children's Hospital, 111 Michigan Ave. NW.