WASHINGTON — American scientists deliberately infected prisoners and patients in a mental hospital in Guatemala with syphilis 60 years ago, a recently unearthed experiment that prompted US officials to apologize Friday and declare outrage over "such reprehensible research."
The US government-funded experiment, which ran from 1946 to 1948, was discovered by a Wellesley College medical historian. It apparently was conducted to test whether penicillin, then relatively new, could prevent infection with sexually transmitted diseases. The study came up with no useful information and was hidden for decades.
Two members of US President Barack Obama's Cabinet apologized to the Guatemalan government for the tests, and the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said the medical experimentation was "shocking, it's tragic, it's reprehensible."
Obama telephoned Guatemalan President Alvaro Colon to apologize personally.
The government researcher who led the work in Guatemala also was involved in this country's infamous Tuskegee experiment, where from 1932 to 1972 scientists tracked 600 black men in Alabama who had syphilis but did not know it, without ever offering them treatment.