64 years later, US says sorry for Guatemala syphilis experiment

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Washington, Oct.2 (ANI): U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius have apologized to the Government of Guatemala and to survivors and descendants of nearly 700 victims who were deliberately infected with venereal diseases between the years 1946 and 1948.

Calling the experiments "clearly unethical," both Clinton and Sebelius said: "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 New York Times further quoted them as saying in a statement that: "We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices."

According to the NYT report, American public health doctors deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalans - prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers - with venereal diseases in what was meant as an effort to test the effectiveness of penicillin.

American tax dollars, through the National Institutes of Health, even paid for syphilis-infected prostitutes to sleep with prisoners, since Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits.

When the prostitutes did not succeed in infecting the men, some prisoners had the bacteria poured onto scrapes made on their penises, faces or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture.

If the subjects contracted the disease, they were given antibiotics.

"However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear," said Susan M. Reverby, the professor at Wellesley College who brought the experiments to light in a research paper that prompted American health officials to investigate.

John C. Cutler was the public health doctor who led the experiment. He would later have an important role in the Tuskegee study in which black American men with syphilis were deliberately left untreated for decades.

His unpublished Guatemala work was unearthed recently in the archives of the University of Pittsburgh by Professor Reverby, a medical historian who has written two books about Tuskegee.

Guatemala's President Alvaro Colom, who first learned of the experiments on Thursday, told Clinton over phone, that these were "hair-raising" and "crimes against humanity."

His government said it would cooperate with the American investigation and do its own.

Professor Reverby presented her findings about the Guatemalan experiments at a conference in January, but nobody took notice, she said in a telephone interview Friday.

In June, she sent a draft of an article she was preparing for the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Policy History to Dr. David J. Sencer, a former director of the Centers for Disease Control.

He prodded the government to investigate. (ANI)

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