I assume most of you know about the Tuskegee syphilis study, which is one of the hallmarks of unethical research and medical care in American history*. But wait! There's more! Apparently experimenting on Americans wasn't enough. Turns out Dr. John Cutler of Tuskegee fame wanted to cement his place in the unethical, poor excuse for a human being hall of fame. Why study people already suffering when you can study people from the moment of infection?

In the 1940s, American researchers went down to Guatemala and deliberately infected citizens (human beings. actual living, breathing, human beings) with various STIs without informing them of the risks or details of the study. Initially research was being done in a US prison. These participants were subject to informed consent and the study wasn't moving along as quickly as they would like. Researchers concluded that moving their study to Guatemala seemed like the best solution.

Between 1946 and 1948 U.S. scientists funded by the NIH 'recruited' participants from mental institutions, prisoners, sex workers, mentally disabled individuals, soldiers, children, and orphans. The listed goal of the study was to investigate the efficacy of penicillin at treating infection. Because they required controls (like good upstanding researchers), roughly half of those infected were treated. Even after the study concluded, participants were not given appropriate medical care.

Initially they would infect prostitutes and send them into prisons and barracks, with one woman reportedly sleeping with 8 men in a little over an hour. Turns out this rate of transmission was too slow so they took to directly depositing the bacteria in patients' urethras, spinal fluid, and through pin prick injections.

Just as an example of one case (trigger warning for general inhumanity and also pus)


For example, Cutler infected Bertha, a female patient in a psychiatric hospital, by injecting her with syphilis in her left arm. A few months later when Bertha was close to death, Cutler put gonorrheal pus from a male subject into both her eyes, her urethra, and her rectum, and reinfected her with syphilis. Several days later, her eyes were filled with pus, and she was bleeding from the urethra. She died a few days later.


It appears that the Nuremberg code only applied to Nazis. The results of the study were never published.

But it's OK! Obama apologized in 2010. All's well that ends well. Except that, unlike the victims from Tuskegee, there was no compensation given to the victims of this study. And no one seems to care.

I had literally no idea that this had occurred until a few hours ago. I am so glad I rifled through the American Journal of Public Health in a waiting room this morning. It was a real pick me up.

*have you guys read about the forced sterilizations and how Hitler got his ideas from American doctors? You should