Hundreds of Guatemalans infected by U.S. scientists

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Guatemala (BDCi)—What may seem to be an inhumane scene out of a movie is now considered a real crime in medical history.

Hundreds of Guatemalans were infected with syphilis and gonorrhea as part of a study by U.S. government scientists, a U.S. presidential panel said. The scientists are said to have been well aware of the unethical nature of the study.

During the 1940s, when sexual transmitted diseases were becoming a threat to society, researchers conducted a study and infected prisoners, psychiatric patients and prostitutes with STDs.

According to the commission reports, nearly 5,500 Guatemalans were involved in the research that occurred between 1946 and 1948.

Of these participants, about 1,300 were deliberately infected with syphilis, gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Only 700 people received some kind of treatment.

The commission revealed that the participants were not informed of the study.

Local doctors had also been involved in the U.S.-funded program to study the effects of penicillin.

The study was defined as a “shameful piece of medical history,” by Dr. Amy Gutmann, head of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical issues.

“It is important that we accurately document this clearly unethical historical injustice. We do this to honor the victims,” she said in a statement.

Guatemalan’s Vice President Rafael Espada told BBC news that his government would apologize formally to the people of Guatemala.

“We want to share the tragedy with the whole world,” he said.

The documents studied by the commission revealed at least 83 of the 5,500 participants died by the end of 1953.

However, the commission was not able to establish whether the causes of death were directly or indirectly a result of the infections.

“Those involved in the study failed to show a minimal respect for human rights and morality in the conduct of research, “said Dr. Gutmann in her final remarks to the panel.

“Civilizations can be judged by the way they treat their most vulnerable… we failed to keep that covenant,” she said.

President Barack Obama set up the commission when the research was revealed last year.

He then apologized to his Guatemalan counterpart, Alvaro Colom, and told him the methods used to conduct this study were contrary to American values.

The researchers conducted another study involving prisoners in Terre Haute in the U.S. state of Indiana.

The difference, the panel revealed, is that the researchers sought permission from these participants and gave them consent forms to sign whereas in Guatemala, patients were told “little to nothing” and were not given consent forms at all.

Earlier this year a group of Guatemalans who were involved in the study announced they were suing the U.S. government over the matter.

By: Shayla Selva
Source: BBC News
Photo courtesy of: rawstory.com
August 30, 2011
10:35 a.m. (PDT)

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