Uncovered: STD Experiments in Guatemala

It’s no secret that relations between the U.S. and Latin American have been historically problematic. From the UFCO’s exertion of power of almost half of Guatemala’s land to today’s struggle for immigration reform, let’s just say that things haven’t necessarily been peachy. To even further prove testament to this rocky relationship, the United States issued an apology Friday for government-sponsored experiments that deliberately infected hundreds of people in Guatemala with gonorrhea or syphilis in the 1940s.

U.S. Public Health Service researchers and others experimented on institutionalized mental patients, giving them gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge. About one-third of the patients who became infected never received adequate treatment, MSNBC reported.

“The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical,” according to a joint statement from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “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.”

Records of the experiments, which were hidden, were discovered by a professor at Wellesley College named Reverby. The research involved the antibiotic penicillin but never provided useful information.

So where was the Guatemalan government when this was taking place?

“Deception was also used in Guatemala,” Professor Reverby said. Dr. Thomas Parran, the former surgeon general who oversaw the start of Tuskegee, acknowledged that the Guatemala work could not be done domestically, and details were hidden from Guatemalan officials.

Considering that these experiments were being done around the time the U.S. was prosecuting Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity, the fact that U.S. government was supporting research that placed human subjects at enormous risk further proves what a an “interesting” relationship we’ve had with Latin America.

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