Washington: At least 83 people in Guatemala died not long after being deliberately infected with sexually transmitted diseases in US medical experiments in the 1940s, a presidential commission in Washington has concluded.
US government scientists had infected 5,500 Guatemalan prisoners, psychiatric patients and sex workers with syphilis and gonorrhoea between 1946 and 1948 to study the effects of penicillin — though none of those infected consented.
While 5,500 people were subjected to diagnostic testing, more than 1,300 were exposed to venereal diseases by contact or inoculations, the commission has said.
“Within that group, we believe that there were 83 deaths. Among the 1,300 exposed to STDs, under 700 received some form of treatment as best as could be documented,” the media quoted commission member Stephen Hauser as saying.
The head of the commission, Amy Gutmann, has described the experiments a “shameful piece of medical history”. “Those involved in the study failed to show a minimal respect for human rights and morality in the conduct of research.”
Many of the actions were “grievously wrong”, she added, and those individuals behind the study were “morally culpable to various degrees”. “Civilisations can be judged by the way they treat their most vulnerable… we failed to keep that covenant,” she said.
US President Barack Obama constituted the commission last year, after news of the experiments came to light. He had also personally apologised to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom in October before ordering a thorough review of what happened.
The commission is due to publish its first report, to establish the historical facts, next month.