U.S. apologizes for 1940s medical experiments on Guatemalans injected with STDs

From http://content.usatoday.com/

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius today apologized for “abhorrent” and “clearly unethical” medical experiments in the 1940s in which U.S. Public Health Service doctors injected Guatemalan patients with syphilis and gonorrhea without their knowledge to study the effect of venereal disease. Read the full statement below. Earlier postings: Doctors from the U.S. Public Health Service injected hundreds of Guatemalans with syphilis and gonorrhea in the 1940s without their knowledge or consent in a study of the effects of venereal disease, NBC news reports. Information on the experiment was discovered by Susan Reverby, a professor of women’s studies at Wellesley College, and can be seen today on her website. Read a synopsis of her findings here and the full report here. Reverby says the “syphilis inoculation project” was co-sponsored by the PHS, the National Institutes of Health, the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau and the Guatemalan government. She says one of the doctors was also involved in the infamous “Tuskegee” syphilis study in which hundreds of already infected African-American men in Alabama were left untreated for 40 years while doctors observed the effects of the disease. The Guatemala project involved 696 people, including prisoners and mental health patients. Reverby writes: The doctors used prostitutes with the disease to pass it on to the prisoners … and then did direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured into the men’s penises or on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded when the ‘normal exposure’ produced little disease or in a few cases through spinal punctures. She notes that unlike in the Tuskegee experiments in Alabama, the subjects in Guatemala were given penicillin after they contracted the illness, although she says it is unclear whether everyone was cured or received adequate treatment. NBC News reporter Robert Bazell says mental patients and prostitutes were unwittingly injected in the experiments from 1946 to 1948. He says the samples used in the experiment were taken from a health facility in Staten Island and that the Guatemalan government was “fully cooperative” in the project. Update at 12:11 p.m. ET: Clinton and Sebelius issued an apology from the U.S. government in a joint statement: The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical. 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. 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. The study is a sad reminder that adequate human subject safeguards did not exist a half-century ago. Today, the regulations that govern U.S.-funded human medical research prohibit these kinds of appalling violations. The United States is unwavering in our commitment to ensure that all human medical studies conducted today meet exacting U.S. and international legal and ethical standards. In the spirit of this commitment to ethical research, we are launching a thorough investigation into the specifics of this case from 1946. In addition, through the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues we are also convening a body of international experts to review and report on the most effective methods to ensure that all human medical research conducted around the globe today meets rigorous ethical standards. The people of Guatemala are our close friends and neighbors in the Americas. Our countries partner together on a range of issues, and our people are bound together by shared values, commerce, and by the many Guatemalan Americans who enrich our country. 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. Update at 2:39 p.m. ET: President Barack Obama also plans to call Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom to personally apologize over the disclosure, White House spokesman Robert Gibss says. (Posted by Doug Stanglin)

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