U.S. apologizes for 1940s syphilis inoculation experiment in Guatemala

The United States issued an unusual apology Friday to Guatemala for an experiment conducted in the 1940s in which prisoners, mental patients and soldiers were deliberately infected with sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis and gonorrhea.

Here's the statement issued jointed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

"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."

Clinton notified Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom about the experiment in a telephone call, according to Sofia Porres of the Guatemalan embassy in Washington. Porres said the embassy would issue an official statement later today.

"We of course are very upset about this and we think it's a very unfortunate event," Porres said in a telephone interview. "We are going to investigate. We knew they were doing investigations but it's very likely we didn't know these experiments were taking place like this. We're going to do an investigation as well to see if there are any survivors, family etc."

Here's a link to the website of Susan Reverby, a Wellesley College professor, who investigated the experiment.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins held an 11:15 a.m. briefing to discuss the matter. http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2010/10/us_apologizes_for_1940s_experi.html?hpid=topnews

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