U.S. Guatemalan Experiments: A Window To A Darker Time
Another dark page in the history of U.S. medicine comes to light. The discovery of new details in a series of U.S. medical experiments done in Guatemala in the 1940s in an anything but ethical manner raises concerns on how current medical experimentation is being handled. It also raises the question as to whether it has ever been monitored closely enough.
A presidential panel recently disclosed new and shocking details of the U.S. medical experiments done in Guatemala in the 1940s. One among many of the new details was the decision to re-infect a dying woman in a study conducted on syphilis.
Already looked upon as one of the darkest episodes in medical research history, these medical experiments were considered far more unethical than those of that time. This of course already factors that many of the laws to protect the human rights of people undergoing medical experimentation were not in existence.
Starting in 1946, the U.S. Public Health Service and the Pan American Sanitary Bureau worked with several Guatemalan government agencies in an effort to practice medical experimentation. This of course would be paid for by the U.S. government. The experimentation would deliberately expose its subjects to sexually transmitted diseases.
Penicillin was still fairly new and researchers wanted to see if it could prevent the infections in the 1,300 people exposed to syphilis, gonorrhea or chancroid. The infected individuals consisted of soldiers, prostitutes, prisoners and mental patients that were otherwise healthy and deliberately infected with the syphilis disease.
It has been reported that there were also orphans as young as nine years old that were experimental subjects.
According to commission reports, seven women who had epilepsy were injected with syphilis below the back of the skull which is a risky procedure. Somehow the researchers were given the idea that the new infection might help cure the epilepsy. The women were treated only after they each got bacterial meningitis. It was believed that was contracted due to unsterile injections.
Among the most chilling were the details involving a female syphilis patient with an undisclosed terminal illness; researchers infected her with gonorrhea in her eyes and in other areas. The patient died six months later.
The commission revealed that only a little more than half of those infected received treatment and that 83 died. It is not certain whether or not those subjects died as a result of the experiments.Continued on the next page