President Obama this afternoon spoke with Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom to “express his deep regret” and “extend an apology to all those infected” following the revelation that the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study from 1946 to 1948 in which near 700 prisoners, soldiers and patients with emotional and mental problems were purposefully infected with syphilis .
The study also was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, a forerunner of the Pan American Health Organization, and the Guatemalan government.
“The president reaffirmed the United States’ unwavering commitment to ensure that all human medical studies conducted today meet exacting U.S. and international legal and ethical standards,” a White House statement said. “He also underscored the United States’ deep respect for the people of Guatemala and the importance of our bilateral relationship.”
News of the study was discovered by Wellesley University professor Susan Reverby, who wrote about the archived documents about the experiment she discovered at the University of Pittsburgh in January's Journal of Policy History.
In a synopsis of her report, Reverby writes that the U.S. “doctors used prostitutes with the disease to pass it to the prisoners (since sexual visits were allowed by law in Guatemalan prisons) and then did direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured onto the men’s penises or on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded when the ‘normal exposure’ produced little disease, or in a few cases through spinal punctures.”
Dr. John Cutler, who participated in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, led this study in Guatemala.
“Obviously, this is shocking,” said White house press secretary Robert Gibbs. “It’s tragic. It’s reprehensible.”
Earlier today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement calling the sexually transmitted disease inoculation study “clearly unethical. 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. We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices.”