News of the WeekBiomedical Ethics

Guatemala Study From 1940s Reflects A 'Dark Chapter' in Medicine

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Science  08 Oct 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6001, pp. 160
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6001.160

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After making a public apology, the United States this week is launching two inquiries into a stunningly unethical U.S. medical study that was conducted in Guatemala 64 years ago. The research—funded from 1946 to 1948 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH)—infected hundreds of Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers, and mental health patients with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases. Its aim was to track the course of infection and test new preventive treatments. But the doctors who ran it for the U.S. Public Health Service never published results.