This is a reprint from an article published Oct. 2010.
Of course everyone has heard by now the appalling discovery unearthed by Wellesley College professor, Susan Reverby on how the US Public Health Service (a medical branch of the US government) conducted clearly unethical and dangerous syphilis experiments in Guatemala in the mid-40s.
All of Washington from President Obama to Secretaries Hillary Clinton and Kathleen Sebelius to NIH director, Francis Collins has come out condemning the experiments and apologized to the country of Guatemala.
So what did Professor Reverby find? From 1946 to 1948, a Public Health Service (PHS) physician, Dr. John C. Cutler, ran a syphilis inoculation project on Guatemalan soldiers and prisoners to determine the prophylactic capabilities of penicillin against this infamous spirochete.
Cutler, the government physician, would also take part in the equally abhorrent US government sponsored Tuskegee Syphilis Study.
Do you think Cutler was just a rogue doctor performing dangerous experiments on unsuspecting foreigners in another land? Though clearly Cutler agreed with the goals of the experiments he certainly wasn’t alone in this. At least two agencies under the Truman administration were direct co-sponsors in this dastardly deed; in addition to the PHS, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was involved and the global health organization, Pan American Health Organization.
And it was not only the US government either. Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom came out saying, “What happened all those years ago is a crime against humanity and the government reserves the right to lodge a formal legal complaint over it.”
What Mr. Colom fails to acknowledge here is that parts of the Guatemalan government at that time also consented to the experiments. It seems the only ones who didn’t consent were the human guinea pigs in Guatemala.
The statement I personally find extremely abhorrent comes from then US Surgeon General Thomas Parran: “You know, we couldn’t do such an experiment in this country”.
Let me preface these next statements by saying I do not consider this case exactly equal to the atrocities that came out of Germany and Japan with human experimentation on prisoners during World War II; however, some things overlap and some are just plain ironic.
In the name of public health, the US government (PHS) in 1946 to 1948 goes to a foreign land (Guatemala) to do human experimentation on prisoners of that foreign land without their consent.
Didn’t just a few short years earlier, Mengele, et al do similar types of experiments on prisoners to test malaria treatments where more than 1000 prisoners were purposely exposed to malaria infected mosquitoes, or purposely infecting prisoners with tetanus and other agents to test the effectiveness of the antibiotic, sulfonamide ?
And not to mention the human experimentation that was performed by the Japanese on Chinese soldiers and others in their infamous Unit 731.
And now the irony…
While our good doctor, John Cutler was conducting these government-condoned “experiments” in Guatemala, the Doctor’s Trials (United States of America v. Karl Brandt, et al) were going on in the Palace of Justice in Nuremburg in front of a panel of US judges.