Washington: Sexually-transmitted disease experiments conducted on hundreds of Guatemalans by American researchers between 1946 and 1948 were ‘gross violations of ethics’, says a US health commission.
   
A report by the US Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues said that the research had been a ‘dark chapter of our medical history’.
   
"In the commission's view, the Guatemala experiments involved unconscionable basic violations of ethics, even as judged against the researchers' own recognition of the requirements of the medical ethics of the day," Dr Amy Gutmann, chair of the commission, said in a statement.
   
"The individuals who approved, conducted, facilitated and funded these experiments are morally culpable to various degrees for these wrongs."
   
The report, "Ethically Impossible: STD Research in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948," came following a request for an investigation made by the White House last year.
   
It concluded that researchers conducted diagnostic tests including blood draws and spinal taps on as many as 5,500 Guatemalan prison inmates, psychiatric patients, soldiers, commercial sex workers, orphans and school children.
   
Of those, researchers deliberately exposed about 1,300 inmates, psychiatric patients, soldiers and commercial sex workers to sexually transmitted diseases syphilis, gonorrhea or chancroid.
   
Only about 700 received some sort of treatment following the tests which were carried out with a view to applying the research to soldiers abroad.
   
In previous tests by many of the same researchers on prisoners in Terra Haute, Indiana, those participants were asked for their consent.

The lack of the same consideration in Guatemala showed a ‘shocking’ double standard, Dr Gutmann said.
   
"A civilisation can be judged by the way that it treats it most vulnerable individuals," she continued.
   
"It is our moral responsibility to care for those who cannot protect themselves and clearly in this dark chapter of our medical history we grievously failed to keep that covenant."
   
US President Barack Obama set up the commission when the experiments, carried out over several years in the 1940s, first came to light last year.
   
He also apologised to his Guatemalan counterpart, Alvaro Colom, saying the acts ran contrary to American values.
   
Earlier this year, a group of Guatemalans who were involved in the study announced they were suing the US government over the affair.

(Agencies)