america faces global outrage after their recent exposure of infecting patients in a guatemalan mental hospital with sexually transmitted diseases (std's) in scientific experiments. government officials provided prostitutes to patients from 1946 to 1948 to test if the new drug, penicillin, could prevent std's. none of the tests proved successful & the results were hidden in medical archives for decades.
president barack obama apologized for the emergence of the american government's role in their deliberate attempt to mistreat mental illness patients. but medical historian susan reverby from wellesley college in massachusetts unearthed the shocking details of the tests while researching archives in pennsylvania.
almost 700 men & women were exposed to gonorrhea & syphilis during the research. if the patients failed to contract the illnesses they were intentionally inoculated. obama called guatemalan president alvaro colom to apologize after becoming aware of this secretive disaster friday. u.s. secretary of state hilary clinton called to apologize the night before.
white house press secretary robert gibbs said, "obviously this is shocking, it's tragic, it's reprehensible, it's tragic & the u.s. by all means apologizes to all those who were impacted." arturo valenzuela, the u.s. assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, said in her conversation with colom, clinton expressed 'her personal outrage & deep regret that such reprehensible research could occur.'
guatemalan embassy official fernando de la cerda said his country hadn't known anything about the scientific experiment until clinton's telephone apology thursday night. de la cerda said, "we appreciate this gesture from the usa, acknowledging the mistake & apologizing...this must not affect the bilateral relationship."
reverby made the discovery last year while combining the archived records of dr john cutler, a government researcher involved in the infamous tuskegee study from 1932 to 1972 which tracked 600 african-descended male sharecroppers in alabama who had syphilis without ever offering them treatment. she found cutler also led the guatemalan project, which is believed to be on a much bigger & more burdensome scale.
during the tuskegee experiment scientists knew the men were infected with syphilis, yet they withheld treatment to track the progression of the disease. but in guatemala, inmates, prisoners & soldiers in mental asylums were wilfully infected, sometimes by using prostitutes provided by the scientists during jail visits or sometimes by pouring the germs onto skin abrasions caused by the research.
reverby shared her disturbing find to health professionals at a conference in may. a month later she provided the government with her discovery resulting in last week's white house apology & has since posted them on her website. said reverby, "i was just completely blown away. i was floored. i expected to find something on tuskegee. there was nothing. what he left behind were these records from the guatemalan study."
unlike tuskegee, most of the subjects were treated - which is why reverby said she did not publicize her findings sooner. she felt no one was in immediate danger, adding, "it's not like i could have stopped something that was happening now." strict regulations today make it clear it's unethical to experiment on people without their consent & require special steps for any work with such vulnerable populations as prisoners. but these regulations were absent in the 1940's.
the u.s. government has ordered two independent investigations to uncover exactly what took place in guatemala & to make sure current bio ethics rules are adequate. the inquiries will be led by the prestigious institute of medicine & the presidential commission for the study of bio ethical issues. dr arthur caplan, a university of pennsylvania bio ethicist said, "we've made some obvious moral progress. the sad legacy of past unethical experiments is that they still shape who it is that we can get to trust medical researchers."
- mark j. tuggle
- harlem, usa
- same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. firstname.lastname@example.org.