The U.S. apologizes for purposely infecting Guatemalans with STD’s

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment of the 20th century is often cited as the most famous example of unethical medical research. Now, evidence has emerged that it overlapped with a shorter study, also sponsored by U.S. government health agencies, in which human subjects were unknowingly being harmed by participating in an experiment.

Research from Wellesley College professor Susan Reverby has uncovered evidence of an experiment in Guatemala that infected people with sexually transmitted diseases in an effort to explore treatments.

The United States apologized Friday for a 1946-1948 research study in which people in Guatemala were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases.

A statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the action “reprehensible.”

“We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices,” the joint statement said. “The conduct exhibited during the study does not represent the values of the United States, or our commitment to human dignity and great respect for the people of Guatemala.”

President Barack Obama called his Guatemalan counterpart Friday “offering profound apologies and asking pardon for the deeds of the 1940s,” President Alvaro Colom told CNN en Espanol in a telephone interview from Guatemala City.

“Though it happened 64 years ago, it really is a profound violation of human rights,” said Colom, who said the report took him by surprise.

Asked whether Guatemala was planning to take legal action, Colom said, “That’s part of the work of the commission.”

“We reject these types of actions, obviously,” said Guatemala presidential spokesman Ronaldo Robles. “We know that this took place some time ago, but this is unacceptable and we recognize the apology from Secretary Clinton.”

The scientific investigation, called the U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study of 1946-1948, aimed at determining the effectiveness of penicillin in treating or preventing syphilis after subjects were exposed to the disease. Gonorrhea and chancres were also studied. Penicillin was a relatively new drug at the time.

The tests were carried out on female commercial sex workers, prisoners in the national penitentiary, patients in the national mental hospital and soldiers. According to the study, more than 1,600 people were infected: 696 with syphilis, 772 with gonorrhea and 142 with chancres.

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1 Comment

  • Mz. Witness Protection

    Reply Reply October 4, 2010

    wow…now we just need the government to fess up about Aids

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