Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Director Kathleen Sebelius apologized today for a 1940s U.S. government program that intentionally infected Guatemalans with sexually transmitted diseases without their consent.
“The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical,” they said in a joint statement. “Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, 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 the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices.”
Susan Reverby, a professor at Wellesley College, has documented the immoral study, and posted her research on her website. Here is an excerpt:
[U.S. Public Health Service Dr. John C.] 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.
Cutler was trying to study the effects of penicillin on the disease.