Sixty-five years have passed since the U.S. Public Health Service ended a horrific experiment in Guatemala. But we today should be as angry and indignant as if this had happened yesterday. If we are not, it could happen again.
The details are coming out in hearings being carried out by the U.S. Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, which will issue its first official report in a few weeks. President Obama has already sent an apology to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom on the basis of initial findings.
From 1946 to 1948, up to 1,300 citizens of Guatemala were deliberately infected with venereal disease (syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid) under a secretive U.S. Public Health Services program run by Dr. John C. Cutler. Dozens may have died from the experiments and many others suffered horribly. The idea was to find out if people exposed to these diseases could be protected by subsequent exposure to penicillin. The study group of Guatemalans, some of whom were army personnel, others prisoners and yet others patients of a mental hospital, were infected by various means.
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