News / Americas

US Apologizes for 1940s Medical Experiments in Guatemala

The United States Friday apologized for a U.S.-funded medical study in the 1940's in which Guatemalans were intentionally infected with sexually-transmitted diseases, or STD's.

U.S. officials have launched two investigations of the case and its implications.

The United States has issued an unusual public apology after disclosure this week that Guatemalan prison and mental institution inmates were intentionally infected with diseases in a U.S. funded medical study in the late 1940's.

A joint statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius called the STD study clearly unethical.

The two Cabinet members said while the events occurred more than six decades ago, they are outraged that such "reprehensible" research could have occurred.

They expressed deep regret for what happened and apologized to all those affected by what they termed abhorrent research practices.

They said the conduct does not represent the United States' values, commitment to human dignity, or "great respect" for the people of Guatemala.

Officials say little documentation remains of the unpublished study, in which U.S. medical researchers infected Guatamalan inmates with gonorrhea and syphilis, without their knowledge or permission, from 1946 to 1948.

In a telephone conference call with reporters, the director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, said some Guatemalan officials knew of the project at the time.

He said most of those infected were given penicillin, a relatively-new treatment at the time, to test its effectiveness.

But he said the study was ridden with serious ethical violations and that such activity would never be approved or condoned today.

"I want to emphasize that today, regulations that govern research funded by the United States government, whether conducted domestically or internationally, would absolutely prohibit this type of study," said Collins.  "Today, researchers must fully explain the risks associated with their study to all research participants, and participants must indicate their informed consent."

Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Arturo Valenzuela, who joined in the conference call, said the United States has expressed its regret about the study directly to Guatemala.

"Secretary Clinton called President Alvaro Colom of Guatemala last night to express her personal outrage and deep regret that such reprehensible research could have occurred, making clear that this does not represent the values of the United States," said Valenzuela.  "She reaffirmed the importance of our relationship with Guatemala and her respect for the Guatemalan people."

Secretaries Clinton and Sebelius said the National Institutes of Health will conduct a thorough investigation of the case.

They said the White House Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues will do a parallel review to ensure that all human medical research, in the United States and abroad, meets rigorous ethical standards.

Officials say the question of possible compensation for any surviving participants of the study in Guatemala will await the results of the investigation.

The professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts who turned up evidence of the Guatemala project said its chief researcher was also involved in a notorious 1930s study, in which African-American men in Alabama  were infected with syphilis and never treated.

NIH director Collins told reporters there were probably more than 40 other similar studies conducted on unwitting subjects in the United States before the practice was banned decades ago.

You May Like

Nearly Every Job in America Mapped in Detail

A nifty map pinpoints practically every job in the United States, revealing the economic character of America’s metropolitan areas, which also helps to inform the local culture

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?i
Carol Pearson
November 29, 2015 1:23 PM
The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video In Cambodian Capital, Political Motives Seen Behind Canceled Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle reports from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs

More Americas News

US Activist Heading Home After Serving Peru Sentence

Lori Berenson returning to New York, two decades after being found guilty of aiding leftist rebels in Peru

Pope Outlines Mexico Trip With 4 Stops, Including Juarez

Comments from pope speaking to reporters en route home from Africa on Monday confirms trip will have a strong immigration theme

16 Dead in Guatemala Prison Riot

Prison spokesman quoted as saying fighting was between members of Mara 18 and Mara Salvatrucha gangs and fellow inmates who don't belong to gangs

Haiti Opposition Says Transitional Government May Be Needed

Eight candidates in last month's disputed presidential election demanding major changes in electoral system, say if that doesn't happen, transitional govt should be created

With Peace Near, Debates Grows Over Colombia's Draft

Among six Latin American countries, including Brazil and Cuba, with a military draft, Colombia is the only one at war

IOC Leaders to Discuss Mexico Dispute Next Month

The International Olympic Committee said Friday the issue of government interference in Mexico will be reviewed by its policy-making executive board at its Dec. 8-10 meeting in Lausanne