“Our Conduct Abroad” U.S. Apologizes For Syphilis Experiments In Guatemala

by Scott Hensley (NPR)

There’s no statute of limitations on the violation of human rights in medical research, the U.S. government acknowledged Friday.

Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that cause syphilis.

Wikimedia CommonsA microscopic closeup of tissue infected with the bacteria that cause syphilis.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized for a U.S.-funded study that led to the deliberate infection of hundreds of Guatemalans with syphilis from 1946-1948.

“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,” their statement reads.

The study in Guatemala was undertaken to investigate the use of penicillin to treat and prevent syphilis infection, but the results were never published. Wellesley professor Susan M. Reverby uncovered documents about the work in an archive at the University of Pittsburgh.

The researchers infected nearly 700 prisoners and mental patients in Guatemala with syphilis. Prostitutes with syphilis were used to infect male prisoners. The researchers deceived the study subjects about the experiment and concealed the facts of their infection.

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