US Apologizes For Human STD Experiment In Guatemala

(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.


cross posted from The Dream Antilles and dailyKos and Stars Hollow Gazette


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  1. of this secret experiment.  Was Guatemala chosen because it was a US puppet at the time?  Was Guatemala chosen because of its Mayan and mestizo population?

    There are far more questions than answers.  And all of the answers are bad.

    Thanks for reading.

    • melvin on October 2, 2010 at 03:43

    US interests, including the ubiquitous United Fruit, owned over 40% of the country’s land surface outright.

    btw, the moron Chuck Todd, unaware of all this and of pretty much everything else, repeated over and over today that it wasn’t all the fault of the US, because the Guatemalan govt signed off on it. As if the two were on an equal footing, and as if that somehow lets the one committing the abomination off the hook.

    This is on a par with Mengele.


    I’ve been watching cable news the last 2 nights a bit and there’s almost nothing about what’s going on with this Kandahar offensive and Pakistan.  You have to go to the blogs.

    as one commenter said, ” a military coup by the same people that supported the Taliban –  genius !”

    I’ve been researching something else and there is a definite news blackout on the topic of pot raids, something I’ve written about before and will again.  How this relates to terrorism and torture is simple-  there is something horrible going on south of our border right now, and we are part of it as the right wing in this country attempts to use corporate cash to preserve the status quo.  

  3. the time frame limits the litigation potential.

  4. My wife told me to calm down. Did Truman even know about this shit? We’re talking about victims who could still be alive TODAY. This isn’t old history. Aplogies by Clinton and Obama don’t satisfy me. I bet all the victims were indigenous people. The Natl. Inst. of Health? Right after the horrors of WWII? Just Vile and Disgusting!  

    • Niky on October 5, 2010 at 15:22

    I could not believe it when i heard the news. I’ve read some conspiratorial theory books and stuff but I never believed them completely. For me this experiment is similar with those made by the Nazi (they did not considered those people as human with rights). And the acceptance from their own government. Let’s hope those persons will receive some compensation, not just the apologies. But the most terrifying thought is how many similar cases are we gonna hear about?

    Affitti Appartamenti Bucarest

  5. Apologizes ? this are not enough, that people are not people..i hate to belive that someone is making experiments on humans or animals..

    Cazare regim hotelier

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