(11AM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)
This evening President Obama apologized to Guatemala’s President for human STD experiments conducted on Guatemalan prisoners, army trooops and mental hospital inmates. Earlier today, Secretary of State Clinton and Health Secretary Sebelius tendered similar apologies. The news of the experiments, which had been kept secret from the subjects and Guatemala’s government, has evoked a firestorm of criticism in Guatemala.
The events in question took place 64 years ago, and they were an egregious, secret series of human rights violations, that were “clearly unethical”.
Here is a description of the experiments, discovered by Susan M. Reverby, a medical historian and professor of women’s studies at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass., and revealed by her today in a journal article:
Dr. John C. Cutler, a Public Health Service doctor, ran a syphilis inoculation project in Guatemala, co-sponsored by the health service, the National Institutes of Health, the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau and the Guatemalan government.
The health service, she wrote, “was deeply interested in whether penicillin could be used to prevent, not just cure, early syphilis infection, whether better blood tests for the disease could be established, what dosages of penicillin actually cured infection, and to understand the process of reinfection after cures.”
The service was struggling to grow syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid in the laboratory and had been having difficulties with tests using rabbits and chimpanzees….
Turning to Guatemala, it ultimately chose nearly 700 subjects – men in the national prison and the army as well as men and women in the national mental health hospital.
“Permission was gained from the authorities, but not from individuals, which was not an uncommon practice at the time,” Professor Reverby wrote.
Prostitutes with syphilis were hired to infect prisoners – Guatemalan prisons allowed such visits. When that failed, in some men the bacteria was poured onto scrapes made on the penis, face or arms, and in some cases it was injected by spinal puncture.
If the subjects contracted the disease, they were given antibiotics – which was not the case in Tuskegee.
“However, whether everyone was then cured is not clear and not everyone received what was even then considered adequate treatment,” Professor Reverby wrote.
Dr. Cutler would later be part of the Tuskegee study in Alabama, which began in 1932 as an observation of how syphilis progressed in black men.
Clearly, conducting medical experiments on subjects who do not consent to the tests and, in fact, are not informed that they are being infected for the sole purpose of experiments is utterly unethical and a clear human rights violation.
A series of apologies is a starting point to bring transparency to this serious human rights violation. But apologies are clearly not enough. Those who suffered from the experiment and if they have not survived, their heirs should be compensated. And in addition, it’s now necessary for the US government to investigate how many other, similar experiments may have been conducted by US Government agencies or under US Government auspices.