More details of unethical US medical experiments in Guatemala in the 1940s

Research methods courses tend to cover the same classic examples of unethical studies. With more details emerging from a government panel, the US medical experiments undertaken in Guatemala during the 1940s could join this list.

From 1946-48, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Pan American Sanitary Bureau worked with several Guatemalan government agencies to do medical research — paid for by the U.S. government — that involved deliberately exposing people to sexually transmitted diseases…

The research came up with no useful medical information, according to some experts. It was hidden for decades but came to light last year, after a Wellesley College medical historian discovered records among the papers of Dr. John Cutler, who led the experiments…

During that time, other researchers were also using people as human guinea pigs, in some cases infecting them with illnesses. Studies weren’t as regulated then, and the planning-on-the-fly feel of Cutler’s work was not unique, some experts have noted.

But panel members concluded that the Guatemala research was bad even by the standards of the time. They compared the work to a 1943 experiment by Cutler and others in which prison inmates were infected with gonorrhea in Terre Haute, Ind. The inmates were volunteers who were told what was involved in the study and gave their consent. The Guatemalan participants — or many of them — received no such explanations and did not give informed consent, the commission said.

Ugh – a study that gives both researchers and Americans a bad name. It is also a good reminder of why we need IRBs.

While the article suggests President Obama apologized to the Guatemalan president, is anything else going to be done to try to make up for this? I also wonder how this is viewed in Central America: yet more details about the intrusiveness of Americans over the last century?

(See my original post on this here.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s