U.S. to Guatemala: Oops, Our Bad About the Syphilis

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Infecting brown people: an American tradition. Photo: Wikimedia

Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius apologized to both the country of Guatemala and Hispanic residents of the United States today for secretly infecting institutionalized mental patients in Guatemala with syphilis and gonorrhea 60 years ago. Many of the 696 male prisoners and female patients, who were infected without their knowledge, were encouraged to pass the sexually transmitted diseases on to others. The experiment, co-sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, the NIH, the Guatemalan government, and others, was purportedly to see whether penicillin could go beyond curing syphilis and prevent early infection. A third of those infected never received treatment. Sounds par for the course for what passed as "science in the public interest" at the time. The study took place from 1946 to 1948, contiguous with the Tuskegee experiment, another U.S. Public Health Service project, which withheld penicillin to syphilis victims even after it was discovered as a cure.

The results from the study in Guatemala never provided any useful data. In fact, records were hidden until Susan Reverby, a Wellesley College professor who has written extensively about the Tuskegee experiment, found them and posted them on her site.

In a statement, Clinton and Sebelius said, "We are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health. We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices." Apologizing for exploiting another country from afar? This is just the kind of anti-colonial rhetoric Newt warned us about.

U.S. to apologize for STD experiments in Guatemala [MSNBC]
US infected Guatemalans with syphillis in 1940s [Boston Globe]