Moral Low Ground

US Government

Guatemalans Intentionally Infected with Syphilis by U.S. Gov’t File Lawsuit

Untreated syphilis.

A group of Guatemalans  who were intentionally infected with syphilis by US government researchers in the 1940s have filed a class-action lawsuit against American health officials, CNN reports. The suit, filed by victims of the experimentation as well as their descendants, alleges that the US government violated various national and international laws when it engaged in the highly unethical human experiments on more than 700 Guatemalan human guinea pigs.

According to the lawsuit, the US government “knowingly engaged in non-consensual human medical experimentation on highly vulnerable populations” that resulted in harm. “From their offices in the United States, Public Health Service (PHS) and other US entities decided to seek a location where they would be able to carry out more invasive methods of inoculation without ethical scrutiny,” the court document asserts, comparing the project to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Starting in 1932, PHS doctors carried out detailed studeis on about 400 poor black Alabamians infected with syphilis. Researchers never told the men they had the sexually transmitted disease, nor did any of the “patients” ever receive treatment, which was widely available from the 1940s on. More than 120 men died and some  passed the disease on to their children.

The lawsuit filed by the Guatemalans claims that the decision to conduct syphilis experimentation in the Central American country “was part of a deliberate plan to continue the Tuskegee testing offshore, where it would not be subject to the same level of oversight as in the United States.”

The Guatemalan prisoners, orphans and mental patients victimized by the racist US experiments never consented to be infected with syphilis, a debilitating disease that, if left untreated, can lead to death. According to the lawsuit, “the [US] medical team started with inmates in the national penitentiary, using American taxpayer money to hire prostitutes who tested positive for syphilis or gonorrhea to offer sexual services to inmates.” When false positive results cast doubt upon the efficacy of the study, children living in an orphanage were experimented on because of their uninfected status. Mental patients were also deliberately infected.

The Obama administration acknowledged and apologized for the experiments last October. “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,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a joint statement. “We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices.”

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