The Guatemala Experiments: Another Tuskegee?

New report finds that in the 1940s, the U.S. performed shocking experiments against Guatemalans by infecting them with syphilis and gonorrhea.

Posted: 09/01/2011 10:01 AM EDT
Alvaro Colom

A panel put together by President Obama has released some disturbing news: In Guatemala in the 1940's, U.S. researchers performed unethical medical procedures and experiments on people, including re-infecting a dying woman with syphilis.


These past experiments, which were conducted from 19461948 by the U.S. Public Health Service, the Pan American Sanitary Bureau and several Guatemalan government agencies, wanted to test if penicillin could prevent STDs such as gonorrhea and syphilis. They tested this theory by deliberately exposing over 1,300 Guatemalans, including soldiers, sex workers, prisoner and mental patients. More than 700 people were infected with an STD and 83 people died.


These particular experiments were not a secret, but what the panel found shocked them. According to the Huffington Post, a female syphilis patient was infected with gonorrhea in her eyes and elsewhere. Six months later she died.


"The researchers put their own medical advancement first and human decency a far second," said Anita Allen, a member of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues.


President Obama called Guatemala's president, Alvaro Colom, to apologize.


African-Americans are no strangers to this type of medical mistreatment. The Tuskegee Experiment — the infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama, to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in 600 African-American men — is the most well known.


(Photo: REUTERS)