Last fall, it came to light that researchers had infected 700 Guatemalan soldiers, prisoners, and mental patients with syphilis in a US Public Health Service study between 1946 and 1948. The American government apologized for these “abhorrent” practices, and promised to investigate what had happened. A White House bioethics commission released its report on the study this Tuesday—and as horrific as the experiments sounded initially, the full story is even worse.
The United States government officially apologized to Guatemala today for unethical medical experiments conducted by American researchers in the country over 60 years ago, in which unwitting subjects were deliberately infected with syphilis.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said they were, in their words, “outraged that such reprehensible research could could have occurred under the guise of public health.” [AP]
The study’s 696 participants were drawn from local prisons, army bases, and mental health facilities; many were paired with infected prostitutes from whom they unknowingly contracted the disease, while others had syphilis bacteria poured on to their penises, forearms, or faces. While the subjects were subsequently treated with penicillin, it’s not clear if the treatment was always adequate. The study was conducted by John Cutler, who was also involved in the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments and has since passed away.
Clinton and Sebelius’s statement didn’t mince words.
“We deeply regret that it happened and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices,” they said, announcing the launch of a thorough investigation into the specifics of the study. “The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical.” [AFP]