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US government researchers deliberately infected Guatemalans with syphilis in the 1940s.
U.S. government researchers deliberately infected Guatemalans with syphilis and gonorrhea, and knew they were committing ethical violations, a U.S. presidential panel has found.
The researchers infected hundreds of Guatemalans with sexually transmitted diseases as part of research in the 1940s to study the effects of penicillin. They did so without telling the Guatemalans that it was being done or that they were participants in a study, BBC reports.
The research is a "shameful piece of medical history," Amy Gutmann, head of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, said in a statement.
"It is important that we accurately document this clearly unethical historical injustice. We do this to honor the victims."
Of the about 5,500 Guatemalans involved in the research, some 1,300 were infected with a sexually transmitted disease, the commission found. Of those, about 700 received treatment. Eighty-three participants died by 1954.
"In the government-sponsored studies conducted in Guatemala between 1946 and 1948, doctors tried to infect prisoners, soldiers and mental patients by giving them prostitutes who were carrying the diseases or were infected by the researchers. The researchers also scraped sensitive parts of subjects’ anatomy to expose wounds to disease-causing bacteria, poured infectious pus into subjects’ eyes, and injected some victims’ spines," the Washington Post reports.
A college professor uncovered the tests decades after they had been done, leading to the United States apologizing last year. A final report by the Obama administration's commission is due in December.
Guatemala said last year it would consider taking the case to an international court, Reuters reports.
Local doctors were involved in the research as well, and Guatemalan Vice President Rafael Espada told BBC the government apologizes for the violation of people's rights and safety.
"We want to share this tragedy with the whole world," he said.
The commission found that the U.S. researchers must have known they were violating ethical standards, Reuters reports. It came to this conclusion because the researchers did obtain consent with conducting a similar study in the United States.
"The people who were in the know, did want to keep it secret because if it would become more widely known, it would become the subject of public criticism," Gutmann said.