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U.S. Orders Vast Review of Bioethics

President Obama on Wednesday ordered a vast review to ensure the ethical treatment of people who take part in research backed by the federal government.

His action is a response to the revelation this year that American scientists intentionally infected people at a Guatemalan mental hospital with syphilis in the 1940s.

In a memorandum released by the White House, Mr. Obama announced a review of federal and international standards to guard the health and well-being of research participants, known as human subjects. He also ordered a fresh inquiry into what happened in the widely condemned experiment in Guatemala.

In that case, American scientists deliberately infected prisoners and patients in a mental hospital with syphilis from 1946 to 1948. It was apparently an effort to test if penicillin, then relatively new, could prevent some sexually transmitted infections. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in October that it was “reprehensible research,” and both she and Mr. Obama called Guatemala’s president, Álvaro Colom, to apologize.

“While I believe the research community has made tremendous progress in the area of human subjects protection, what took place in Guatemala is a sobering reminder of past abuses,” Mr. Obama said in the memo to Amy Gutmann, the chairwoman of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.

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