US apologises to Guatemala for medical experiments

Friday, October 1, 2010

WASHINGTON - The US formally apologised to Guatemala Friday for intentionally infecting hundreds of people with sexually transmitted diseases during medical experiments decades ago.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, issued a joint statement calling the experiments that took place from 1946 to 1948 “unethical” and “reprehensible”.

“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,” the secretaries said.

“We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices,” their statement said. Clinton telephoned Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom Thursday night to personally apologise, a US official said.

The revelations were first made by Susan Reverby, a professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, in a January research paper published on her website.

US government doctors intentionally infected the Guatemalan subjects with syphilis and gonorrhoea, Reverby concluded.

Reverby came across documents outlining the study when researching similar experiments conducting on African American men that began about a decade earlier. The US Public Health Service carried out the experiments under the guise of syphilis inoculations.

The researchers were trying to determine if penicillin, at the time in its early stages, could prevent an early syphilis infection in addition to curing it, Reverby wrote.

The study involved 696 subjects selected among men at the Guatemala National Penitentiary, and men and women residing in the National Mental Health Hospital, according to Reverby. In some cases, prostitutes already infected with the diseases were used to transmit it to men in the prison.

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