US Apologizes for Guatemala Experiments

In the 1940s, the United States government and medical researchers <"">intentionally infected scores with gonorrhea and syphilis, never advising them and never gaining their permission, said NBC News. Some of those infected in Guatemala included “institutionalized mental patients,” added NBC.

U.S. government medical researchers intentionally infected hundreds, possibly more than 1,500, people in Guatemala, with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission more than 60 years ago. In response to the revelation, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius broadly apologized for what occurred at the hands of the U.S. Public Health Service, said NBC.

“The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical,” said the joint statement from Clinton and Sebelius. “Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health. We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices,” quoted NBC News.

Secretary Clinton also telephoned Alvara Cabellaros, the Guatemalan president, to reiterate how critical the relationship is between the US and Guatemala; President Barack Obama also called President Cabellaros, according to a statement issued by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, said NBC News.

“The people of Guatemala are our close friends and neighbors in the Americas,” said the government release, quoted NBC News. “As we move forward to better understand this appalling event, we reaffirm the importance of our relationship with Guatemala, and our respect for the Guatemalan people, as well as our commitment to the highest standards of ethics in medical research,” the statement continued.

The U.S. is creating commissions to ensure human medical research conducted internationally meets “rigorous ethical standards” and is implementing probes to determine what happened, quoted NBC News. At a conference call last week with National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins and Assistant Secretary of State Arturo Valenzuela, the lack of formalized regulations surrounding human life protection at the time of the experiments was discussed, said NBC News.

Sadly, the horrific experiments did not provide valuable information; worse, records were hidden until they were discovered by Susan Reverby, a professor of women’s studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, said NBC News. The report found that the project was co-sponsored by the US Public Health Service, the NIH, the Pan-American Health Sanitary Bureau (now the Pan American Health Organization), and the government of Guatemala, said NBC News.

Participants included male prisoners and female patients—a total of 696—at the National Mental Health Hospital, noted NBC News, with research meant to determine if penicillin, the then-scarce antibiotic, could prevent as well as cure syphilis, said Reverby. USA Today said as many as 1,500 participants, including soldiers, prisoners, and prostitutes, were infected with the dangerous syphilis bacteria as well as other sexually transmitted diseases. NBC said infection occurred via visits with infected prostitutes and inoculations; USA Today said infection was also prompted by skin cuts.

It remains unknown if patients were ever cured or received appropriate medical attention, said Reverby; however, it’s believed at least 30 percent did not.

NIH director, Francis Collins, described the scandal as “a dark chapter” in medical history quoted USA Today.

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