Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Human Health Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will formally apologize to Guatemala today for the experiments conducted on Guatemalan patients by the U.S. Public Health Service where in the 1940’s people were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission.
Not scenes from a horror movie, these were the all too real shock and awe tactics of the US government.
This is a breaking news story, links and more below.
The breaking story is up on MSNBC’s website
U.S. to apologize for STD experiments in Guatemala
The episode raises inevitable comparisons to the infamous Tuskegee experiment, the Alabama study where hundreds of African-American men were told they were being treated for syphilis, but in fact were denied treatment. That U.S. government study lasted from 1932 until press reports revealed it in 1972.
The Guatemala experiments, which were conducted between 1946 and 1948, never provided any useful information and the records were hidden.
According to the article, this story was discovered by a Wellesly Women’s Studies professor, Susan Reverby. She has a pdf of her article available at her website here: Susan Reverby
Here is another take on the story from RawStory US to apologize for ‘atrocious’ STD experiments in Guatemala. The Rawstory article has several blockquotes from Reverby's article and synopsis, which are both not opening correctly for me at the moment. I strongly encourage all to read her article for the full details.
In 1946-48, Dr. John C. Cutler, a PHS
physician who would later be part of the Syphilis Study in Alabama
in the 1960s and continue to defend it two decades after it ended in
the 1990s, was running a syphilis inoculation project in Guatemala,
co-sponsored by the PHS, the National Institutes of Health, the Pan
American Health Sanitary Bureau (now the Pan American Health
Organization), and the Guatemalan government.
Cutler and the other physicians chose men in the Guatemala
National Penitentiary, then in an army barracks, and men and
women in the National Mental Health Hospital for a total of 696
subjects. Permissions were gained from the authorities but not
individuals, not an uncommon practice at the time, and supplies
were offered to the institutions in exchange for access. The doctors
used prostitutes with the disease to pass it to the prisoners (since
sexual visits were allowed by law in Guatemalan prisons) and then
did direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured onto the
men’s penises or on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded
when the "normal exposure" produced little disease, or in a few cases
through spinal punctures. Unlike in Alabama, the subjects were then
given penicillin after they contracted the illness. However, whether
everyone was then cured is not clear and not everyone received what
was even then considered adequate treatment.
Yet the PHS was aware then that this was a study that would
raise ethical questions. For as Surgeon General Thomas Parran made
clear "’You know, we couldn’t do such an experiment in this
country."4 Deception was the key here as it had been in Tuskegee.
Much of this was kept hushed even from some of the Guatemalan
officials and information about the project only circulated in selected
syphilology circles. When it proved difficult to transfer the disease
and other priorities at home seemed more important, Cutler was told
to pack up and come back to the States.
Knowing a bit about the history of US foreign policy in Central America, and in Guatemala in particular, this story doesn't exactly surprise me. The apologies are a good start, but are nowhere near enough in the long run. Much more change in America's imperial behavior, from past to present, needs to come.