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Secretary Clinton & Secretary Sibelius Release Joint Statement on the Horrific Medical Experiments Carried Out in Guatemala

October 2, 2010

This is one of those stories that just makes your stomach turn in disgust. I applaud Secretary Clinton, Secretary Sibelius and Pres. Obama for issuing an apology on behalf of the U.S. Of course, no apology adequately confronts the total lack of humanity, ethics and morals of what was done in the the 1940’s but perhaps it can serve as a reminder that treating some people as inferior and less than human often results in gross violations of basic human rights. And remember, this was immediately following the revelations of the horrors of Dr. Mengele during the Holocaust.

What is interesting is that the Guatemalan government knew nothing about the experiments until Secretary Clinton called them Thursday night to apologize. This apparently preceded President Obama’s call to the Guatemalan President on Friday.

Joint Statement by Secretaries Clinton and Sebelius on a 1946-1948 Study

Following is a joint statement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius on the U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study of 1946-1948:

The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was 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. The conduct exhibited during the study does not represent the values of the United States, or our commitment to human dignity and great respect for the people of Guatemala. The study is a sad reminder that adequate human subject safeguards did not exist a half-century ago.

Today, the regulations that govern U.S.-funded human medical research prohibit these kinds of appalling violations. The United States is unwavering in our commitment to ensure that all human medical studies conducted today meet exacting U.S. and international legal and ethical standards. In the spirit of this commitment to ethical research, we are launching a thorough investigation into the specifics of this case from 1946. In addition, through the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues we are also convening a body of international experts to review and report on the most effective methods to ensure that all human medical research conducted around the globe today meets rigorous ethical standards.

The people of Guatemala are our close friends and neighbors in the Americas. Our countries partner together on a range of issues, and our people are bound together by shared values, commerce, and by the many Guatemalan Americans who enrich our country. As we move forward to better understand this appalling event, we reaffirm the importance of our relationship with Guatemala, and our respect for the Guatemalan people, as well as our commitment to the highest standards of ethics in medical research.

Here is more on the story:

American scientists deliberately infected prisoners and patients in a mental hospital in Guatemala with syphilis 60 years ago, a recently unearthed experiment that prompted U.S. officials to apologize Friday and declare outrage over “such reprehensible research.”

The discovery dredges up past wrongs in the name of science – like the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study in this country that has long dampened minority participation in medical research – and could complicate ongoing studies overseas that depend on cooperation from some of the world’s poorest countries to tackle tough-to-treat diseases.

Uncovering it gives “us all a chance to look at this and – even as we are appalled at what was done – to redouble our efforts to make sure something like this could never happen again,” said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH-funded experiment, which ran from 1946 to 1948, was uncovered by a Wellesley College medical historian. It apparently was conducted to test if penicillin, then relatively new, could prevent some sexually transmitted infections. The study came up with no useful information and was hidden for decades.

“We are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Friday.

President Barack Obama called Guatemala’s president, Alvaro Colom, later Friday to apologize. Clinton had called to apologize the night before.

“Obviously this is shocking, it’s tragic, it’s reprehensible,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. “It’s tragic and the U.S. by all means apologizes to all those who were impacted.”

Guatemalan Embassy official Fernando de la Cerda said his country hadn’t known anything about the experiment until Clinton called to apologize Thursday night[emphasis added]

18 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolyn-Rodham permalink
    October 2, 2010 3:10 pm

    Sad to say, these kinds of abuses continue to this very day, even at the most elite academic institutions:

    http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/07/19/kreitchman-pet-center-at-columbia-university-cuts-corners/

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      October 2, 2010 3:28 pm

      Link didn’t work – here”s the story

      “Kreitchman PET Center at Columbia University Cut Corners
      By John M Grohol PsyD

      “In a little-noticed article over at The New York Times late last week, Benedict Carey noted how one of Columbia University’s premier research centers — the Kreitchman PET Center — had to halt all of its research studies because researchers were caught cutting corners. Not just once, but over and over again.

      We’re not talking about flubbing up statistical data here. We’re talking about creating and administering improper, impure drugs to research participants. Drugs that may not only harm patients, but could even impact the researcher’s findings. (And researchers then wonder why it’s so hard to get research subjects…)
      What is the Kreitchman PET Center? It is (or was) the nation’s leading research organization using positron emission tomography (PET) for psychiatric research. This is the cream of the crop when it comes to using PET scans in an effort to unlock the secrets of the brain to better understand…”

      full article at
      http://psychcentral.com/blog/archive…y-cut-corners/

      Thank you Dr. John for your honest and brave response.

      I’ve been checking everyday for a followup on this story (originally covered by the NY Times last week. )The lack of response from the medical and research community was deafening. According to Columbia it seems it was okay to put vulnerable patients at risk, ignnore FDA regulations, falsify data — because they said no patients suffered any harm in the end. And are we to believe them?

      Today the journal Nature ran a news story on this and not surprisingly the basic problem is a lack of enforceable regulations on scanning practices. The regs seem to be less strict when radioactive substances are used… Huh? And then the Columbia lab ignored even these minimal regs.

      Article in Nature online: “Brain-imaging programme suspended after violations —
      FDA investigation at Columbia University serves as warning to other centres, say experts”

      Excerpt:
      “Most experimental drugs in the United States are regulated through an Investigational New Drug (IND) application to the FDA. But radioactive drugs used in research pilot studies do not require an IND, and can rely instead on approval from the research institution’s Radioactive Drug Research Committee (RDRC). Researchers are typically expected to file for IND status after 30 trial injections have allowed them to refine their procedure. Even when IND status has been granted, however, the FDA only audits research laboratories in response to complaints, and such complaints are exceedingly rare.”

      The full article, with new information on how the lab operated is online at:
      http://www.nature.com/news/2010/1007…tml?s=news_rss

      The major casualty from this incidents like this is patient trust. It also reinforces the need for stronger protections for all human trial participants

      • October 2, 2010 3:34 pm

        Wow, I published my comment at the exact moment you provided the new link.

        What is so worrisome about that article is you have to wonder if its just the tip of the iceberg and how much goes on that we don’t know about.

        As noted above, stories like this erode the public’s trust in scientific experiments and could end up undermining legitimate efforts to find new medications, new therapies etc.

        I have sat on several ethics boards at hospitals in my capacity as a nurse-attorney and there are times when I have to just shake my head [and speak up] when it comes to human subjects research- the conflicts of interest at times are truly amazing, as are the different ways some organizations try to rationalize them away. The medical community is still very paternalistic and seems to believe that questionable research can be justified under the concept of “the greater good.”

  2. October 2, 2010 3:28 pm

    Hey Caroline. That link didn’t work😦

    I agree that very questionable experiments still take place in both the public and private sector.

    On a similar note, a while back I read the book Secret and Lies: A History of CIA Mind Control and Germ Warfare by Gordon Thomas and it is just sickening what has been going on, and may be going on to this very day. The number of physicians and psychiatrists involved in these horrific experiments is truly unbelievable. So much for ‘first do no harm.’ So much evil can be rationalized under the guise of “national security” which is why the older I get and the more I learn, the more I think the CIA and our intelligence apparatus needs a thorough house cleaning. The very idea that these experiments can be conducted in total secrecy, with zero oversight, is inconsistent with democratic ideals.

    Interestingly, some of the documents contained in the book are signed by none other than Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld in the 1970’s -those two are rotten to the core- regarding the use of LSD and other agents being provided to members of the military without their knowledge- things started to unravel when one of the prominent psychiatrists involved committed suicide resulting in a lawsuit against the govt. The book is really unbelievable- we use torture, mind control, germ warfare etc. And please don’t think the book is some sort of conspiracy theory nut book – it’s not- it’s based on the author being given 22,000 classified documents when he was working on issues relating to the secret programs of the CIA.

  3. MadeinAmerica permalink
    October 2, 2010 3:44 pm

    Stacey, get a life. Honestly do you have a life or do you just sit around waiting for news of about your girlfriend Hillary Clinton that you can post and that no one really gives a shit about? What are you gonna do with this site when she is no longer secretary of state? Just post photos every day of her and your cats, like anyone gives a damn about them either?

    Get. A. Life

    Oh and nice job trying to ban me from your site and blocking my IP- it’s pretty easy to get around as you can see. Lamo. So much for free speech.

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      October 2, 2010 4:01 pm

      I don’t know why this just came to mind, but I just saw this episode of “Bones” where some creepy fat girl insinuates herself into Booth’s life and starts stalking him. Because her real life is depressingly empty and devoid of any meaningful relationships.

      • HillaryFan permalink
        October 2, 2010 4:06 pm

        Exactly Carolyn!

        But seriously, didn’t Stacy say a while back she was having trouble with someone that was harrassing her with emails through the “contact me” page and I think it was AmericanBill and that apparently who this loser is. What’s a tad disturbing is he’s got a one track mind, which I don’t need to mention because everyone who hangs out here knows what it is.

      • October 2, 2010 6:24 pm

        @Carolyn- LOL. Too funny- don’t know why that episode came to you, huh?

        I’ll just keep banning his IP.

        And MadeinAmerica/AmericanBill/AmericanPatriot- this is not a free speech issue, sorry.

      • AmericanT permalink
        October 3, 2010 9:35 am

        Come to think of it Carolyn, you should get a life too. Thanks for the pop psychology tho’

    • Thain permalink
      October 2, 2010 5:22 pm

      Hey, AmericanIdiot, beat it.

    • RE: permalink
      October 2, 2010 5:40 pm

      Get a life? Really? This is coming from a human being that has to physically type in the URL of this site to READ and COMMENT about another human being that enjoys providing information to others about another human being we admire, that just so happens to be a woman?

      Sounds to me like YOU need to get a life…

      • rachel permalink
        October 3, 2010 10:17 am

        So this is what cyber bullying looks like.

  4. October 2, 2010 5:02 pm

    Recently I listened to a radio program about clinical trials. There was a tragic case of a mentally ill young man who had been diagnosed psychotic, was on meds, and signed up for a clinical trial. His mother tried for many months to get him released from the trial, going through all the proper channels. No success. Finally, the young man killed himself. He had been responding very poorly to the meds in the clinical trial, but his mother could not get him out of the program. And that was in Minnesota.

    That is one case. Heaven knows how often this type of thing happens…

    • Carolyn-Rodham permalink
      October 2, 2010 5:38 pm

      These stories are so disheartening — especially to those of us in the profession. It makes it very hard to reassure patients that I wouldn’t let anything like this happen to them, though I try anyway.

      • October 2, 2010 6:22 pm

        It must be particularly hard when you are dealing with a vulnerable population from the outset.

  5. rachel permalink
    October 3, 2010 10:20 am

    America really has done some dispicable things to its own citizens and other citizens.

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