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Apology at Last

Justice delayed is justice denied, said the statesman. The same is true of an apology. But we hope that even a long-delayed one will give some comfort to the families of 399 victims of a federal health experiment the White House calls "absolutely reprehensible" - and to the few surviving victims themselves.

The latter are invited to the Rose Garden May 16, where President Clinton will make a formal apology for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study of 1932-72, in which poor black men were promised free medical care, were diagnosed with syphilis, but were then neither told of it nor given treatment for it. They were studied along with a control group of 201 men without syphilis. By the time the study (subject of a recent television film, "Miss Evers' Boys") was exposed in 1972, the deaths of 28 participants were attributed to syphilis and of 100 to syphilis-related complications.

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Since then the government has paid some $10 million to victims and families in an out-of-court settlement. May the belated presidential apology mean not only regret for the past but renewed determination for scrupulous government conduct in the future.