President Obama apologises to Guatemala over 1940s syphilis studyBMJ 2010; 341 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c5494 (Published 04 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5494
All rapid responses
Re:President Obama apologises over Guatemala syphilis study: International co-operative research and practice in jeopardy.
Some fifty years ago, there were, in Kenya, detention camps for Mau
Mau. There were reports of ill-treatment of the detainees.
A minister of HMG stood up in the House of Commons to dismiss the
allegations and described the Kenyan tribesmen as subhuman and therefore
not worthy of being treated any better.
Six hundred and fifty odd members seemed to accept the explanation.
One honourable member from the Black Country protested however. He was ex-
Brigadier Enoch Powell. To him, obviously, the word SUB-HUMAN meant the
same as UNTERMENSCH. Strange that his fellow MPs could not see the
Are doctors any different?
Competing interests: No competing interests
President Obama apologises over Guatemala syphilis study: International co-operative research and practice in jeopardy.
President Obama apologises over Guatemala syphilis study:
International co-operative research and practice in jeopardy.
Twice in just 13 years two American Presidents apologised openly for
unethical medical practices. President Barack Obama expressed his "deep
regret" (9 October, p 750) about an NIH/US Public Health Service funded
research in the 1940's "in which 696 Guatemalans were deliberately
infected with syphilis"  Some 13 years earlier, President Clinton made
a world wide radio and television apology to the eight survivors of the
Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, stating: "The United States Government did
something that was wrong, deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was
outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens.
It was clearly racist."  President Clinton went on at a special
ceremony in the White House on 16 May 1997: "We can end the silence. We
can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally
say on behalf of the American people what the United States Government did
was shameful, and I am sorry" There was applause .
His wife, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, issuing a Guatemala
apology statement on this occasion with Kathleen Sebelius, also did not
mince her words: "clearly unethical...we are outraged that such
reprehensible research could have occurred...we deeply regret such
abhorrent research practices" . Obviously, these practices occurring
(in Hillary Clinton's words) "under the guise of public health" are
inimical to real, genuine efforts at co-operation in research between "the
have's" and the "have not's" from which some of us have benefited
enormously in the past and for which I personally have proclaimed
gratitude . Already, in the USA, some co-operative research has been
abandoned because of Tuskegee .
Oxford's Professor George Fraser  has translated from the German
edition Benno Muller-Hill's "Murderous Science by Scientific Selection of
Jews, Gypsies, and Others, Germany 1933-1945" . Every literate person
should read this book. The evil of Nazism could be going on
surreptitiously right now to get rid of the "less favoured races".
Apartheid scientists confessed as much . Indeed, I did ask once in the
BMJ "Have we proven beyond all reasonable doubt that there are no present-
day scientists with Nazi proclivities? 
PREJUDICE IN SCIENCE
There is a remarkable article which, again, every scientist should
retrieve from their library and read, namely the late Lord Solly
Zuckerman's William Randolph Lovelace II Memorial Lecture that he gave at
the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Albuquerque,
New Mexico, in 1974 . Simply priceless! We in Ghana found it so
excellent we republished it with permission in the Ghana Medical Journal
. Lord Zuckerman gave example after example where scientific
statements, publications, and behaviour were tinged with, and motivated
by, pride and prejudice. He emphasized how much "the advance of science
and the success of its application depend on the personal qualities of its
practitioners" [9 10] Lord Zuckerman mentioned how prejudice can drive a
scientist to the neglect or suppression or distortion of what may be
vitally important. He states how "prejudice has even led to falsification"
and he gave examples of what he called "scientific fraud" and
"illustration of fakery". [9 10]
HIGH REPUTATION FOR SCHOLARSHIP DOES NOT ALWAYS REFLECT VERACITY
Sometimes the reputation of the person making ex cathedra statements
is so profoundly enviable that the unscientific content of the
pronouncement is not realised. The latest example of this was when one
white American Nobel Prize winner said categorically that the present
genome sequencing exercise would prove in less than 10 years that the
African had an intelligence inferior to that of whites. Allowing his
entire genome to be sequenced it emerged that his own great grand parent
who was born African, and my great grand father Konotey-Adade, born in
1820, would have been on the African continent about the same time .
It came to pass that the Nobel Prize winner's forebear had been carried,
through enforced migration, across The Atlantic to the USA. As Lord
Zuckerman OM FRS so eloquently would have implied, this Nobel Laureate
allowed his prejudice to run away with him to make pronouncements that
many purported to be well reasoned, evidence based, and thoroughly
scientific. My response was simply this: "Still alive today in the USA,
(he) was thus brutally reminded not only that there is but one human race,
but also that African genes contributed to the Nobel Prize in
Medicine/Physiology that he jointly won .." 
IS FUTURE CO-OPERATIVE RESEARCH IN JEOPARDY?
It depends! And it depends on who have come to Africa to do the
research and what the work is. If the visitors are as transparent as those
I have praised to be worthy of Ghanaian gratitude , then co-operation
will proceed. If the attitude of the visitors is not "We have some money
for you, let us know what you need", but rather "Let us try this and that
vaccination on you natives, it's in your best interest", then they surely
must be sent packing. I have queried the present Global Genome Sequencing
exercise for proceeding anonymously. Why? I asked . The Yoruba in
Ibadan Nigeria, the Maasai in Kinyawa, Kenya, the Luhya in Wayube, Kenya,
have all been among "volunteers" to be genome sequenced anonymously [14
15]. Why anonymously? Could we be certain some scientists fitting the
description which Lord Zuckerman gave would not be among the researchers?
What if these researchers came out with some such statement as "genes for
laziness have been found among the Yoruba's"? Would we have the means to
check the truth of such pronouncement when the whole exercise was done
anonymously? True, the researchers come with plenty of money to the
communities involved, as they did in Tuskegee and Guatemala, but would
they be surprised if the tribal Chief said to them: Take your money away,
and to his people "Equo ne credite, Teucri! Quidquid id est, timeo Danaos
et dona ferentes" [Do not trust the horse, Trojans! Whatever it is, I fear
the Greeks, even when they bring gifts]? If these scientists sequencing
genomes anonymously venture into my Manya Krobo tribe in south-east Ghana
the Paramount Chief, Nene Sakite II, who is anything but illiterate and
who reads voraciously, and knows about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is
likely to say to us in fluent Latin: "Hei, Africani Negriti! Genomo ne
credite. Quidquid id est, timemus researcheros et dona ferentes" (Hei,
Fellow Black Africans! Do not trust the Genome Sequencing Project.
Whatever it promises, we fear the researchers even when they bring gifts)
Felix I D Konotey-Ahulu FGA MD FRCP DTMH FAAS FTWAS ORDER OF THE
Dr Kwegyir Aggrey Distinguished Professor of Human Genetics
University of Cape Coast, Ghana and Consultant Physician Genetic
Counsellor in Sickle Cell & Other Haemoglobinopathies, 10 Harley
Street, London W1G 9PF [email@example.com]
Conflict of interest: None declared
1 Tanne Janice Hopkins. President Obama apologises to Guatemala
over 1940's syphilis study. BMJ 2010: 341. c5494. October 9, page 750.
2 Clinton President W J. Apology on behalf of the American
government to 8 survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment victims.
World-wide radio and television PBS News Hour Newsreel Announcement (Jim
Lehrer and Charlayne Hunter-Gault) May 16 1997
3 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Clinical Genetics: Ghanaian gratitude for
British and Hungarian contrib utors - A personalised historical
perspective Ghana Med J 2009; 43: 175-178.
[Special Article December No. 4]
4 Getz Ken, Peddicord Doug. Tuskegee: A Cloud Over Research:
Minorities are not participating in Clinical Trials. The Washington Post
Tuesday September 30, 2008.
5 Mayo Oliver, Leach Carolyn. Editors: FIFTY YEARS OF HUMAN
GENETICS A Festschrift and liber amicorum to celebrate the life and work
of GEORGE ROBERT FRASER. Wakefield Press 2007 (www.wakefieldpress.com.au)
1 The Parade West, Kent Town, South Australia 5067)
6 Muller-Hill Benno. Murderous Science. Elimination by Scientific
Selection of Jews, Gypsies, and Others - Germany 1933-1945. [Translated
from German by G R Fraser] Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.
7 Fassin Didier, Schneider Helen. The Politics of AIDS in South
Africa, beyond the controversies. BMJ 2003; 326: 495-97 (1 March).
8 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Wake up call and need for paradigm shift. BMJ
2003 'Rapid -Response' to Fassin & Schneider
9 Zuckerman Lord S. Pride and Prejudice in Science. Aerospace
Medicine 1974; 45: 638-647.
10 Zuckerman Lord S. Pride and Prejudice in Science. Ghana Medical
Journal 1975; 14: No.1, p 52-60.
11 Leake Jonathan. DNA pioneer James Watson is blacker than he
thought. Sunday Times Dec 9, 2007
12 Konotey-Ahulu FID. There is but one human race. New African
Dec. 2009, page 4
13 Konotey-Ahulu FID. Global Genome Sequencing: Some Ethical
Considerations. Post-Inaugural Symposium on "1000 Genomes Project: On the
Frontier of Personalized Medicine". Howard University National Human
Genome Center Ralph J Bunch International Affairs Center. 2218 Sixth
Street, NW Washington, DC USA Jan. 23, 2009. [Invited Lecture]
14 Wise Jaqui. Consortium hopes to sequence genome of 1000
volunteers. BMJ 2008; 336: 237 (2 February).
15 Announcement http://www.1000genomes.org/files/1000Genomes-
NewsRelease.pdf International Consortium Announces the 1000 Genomes
Project. Major Sequencing Effort Will Produce Most Detailed Map of Human
Genetic Variation to Support Disease Studies (Tuesday January 22 2008).
16 Konotey-Ahulu FID. The Human Genome Diversity Project:
Cogitations of An African Native. Politics and the Life Sciences (PLS)
1999, Vol 18: No 2, pp 317-322. [Invited Commentary on Professor David
Resnik's article: The Human Genome Diversity Project: Ethical Problems and
Solutions.] PMID: 12561789 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Competing interests: No competing interests