Obama Commission Confirms U.S. Research Killed 83 ‘Human Guinea Pigs’ in Guatemala STD Experiments
A presidential commission has confirmed that 83 Guatemalans died as a result of being used as human guinea pigs in U.S. research on sexually transmitted diseases in the late 1940s.
According to Agence France-Presse, the commission ordered by President Obama found that more than 5,500 Guatemalans were subjected to diagnostic testing and more than 1,300 were intentionally exposed to STDs through unprotected sex or inoculations. This criminal research, carried out by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, revolved around testing the relatively new drug penicillin in order to determine its efficacy in preventing STDs.
Such tests were a clear violation of medical ethics as established at the Nuremberg trials, in which informed consent was established as a prerequisite for any human experimentation. Nazi and Japanese doctors and scientists were tried and convicted for similar offenses, but many were later hired to work for the United States. The Declaration of Helsinki, issued by the World Medical Association in 1964, also prohibits human experimentation without informed consent.
The Guatemala research was rooted in the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, in which nearly 400 impoverished black men from Alabama who had syphilis were studied from the 1930s through the 1970s. Researchers observed them as they died slow, painful deaths from the debilitating and maddening disease, never informing them of the true nature of the experiment and withholding the penicillin that could have easily cured them. Some 128 men died as a result of this cruel experiment.
There is a direct link between Tuskegee and Guatemala: Dr. John Cutler, who led the Guatemalan experiments, also participated in Tuskegee. He and his team infected Guatemalan prostitutes with gonorrhea or syphilis and then encouraged them to have unprotected sex with soldiers and prisoners. Mental patients were also infected. None of the test subjects was ever told what was happening to them.
Amy Gutmann, president of the U.S. commission investigating the experiments, called them “an historic injustice.” She said the purpose of the probe was to “honor the victims and make sure it never happens again.”
President Obama personally apologized to Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom last October when news of the experiments became widely known. Colom has called the experiments “crimes against humanity” and opened his own investigation.
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