Hillary Clinton and Kathleen Sebelius apologize for Guatemalan syphilis experiment

Today finally sees two of the USA’s most prominent women in politics finally apologize for one of the most cruel and despicable experiments ever carried out on man to date. Mind you, it only took the USA seven decades to offer one. The experiment, carried out in the 1940′s, was the barbaric and deliberate act of inoculating prisoners, soldiers and mental patients with the killer disease syphilis, without their knowledge or permission. This was one of the most barbaric and cruel acts of human power ever recorded.

Information on the experiment was discovered by Susan Reverby, a professor of Women’s Studies at Wellesley College. Reverby says the “syphilis inoculation project” was co-sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS), the National Institutes of Health, the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau and the Guatemalan government.

The doctor running the program, John C. Cutler (PHS), was also involved in the infamous “Tuskegee” syphilis study in which hundreds of already infected African-American men in Alabama were left untreated for 40 years while doctors observed the effects of the disease. The Guatemala project involved 696 people. It is believed these men were treated with penicillin but it remains unclear if their treatment was adequate.

Syphilis is a terrible painful and life threatening disease , it is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum, and often doesn’t cause any symptoms in its early stages. If left untreated, it can progress to affect the entire body. Syphilis typically has three stages, and there can be different symptoms in each. This disease was given  to these men deliberately.

The USA Today noted (http://content.usatoday.com/communities…) U.S. doctors in 1940s inoculated Guatemalan patients with STDs without their consent. According to the article, this is what Susan wrote in her document concerning the experiments:

“The doctors used prostitutes with the disease to pass it on to the prisoners … and then did direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured into the men’s penises or on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded when the ‘normal exposure’ produced little disease or in a few cases through spinal punctures.”

This is how Syphilis would have affected the men, in these inhuman experiments.

About.com Mens Health

“Signs and Symptoms of Syphilis for Men


Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by Treponema pallidum – a specific type of bacteria called a spirochete. Syphilisis characterized by four stages: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary.

After becoming infected with syphilis, there is an incubation period between of 9 to 90 days (the average being around 21 days) before the first signs and symptoms of the disease appear. Each stage of syphilis has characteristic signs and symptoms but any particular sign or symptom of may or may not be present.

Signs and Symptoms of Primary Syphilis

The primary stage of syphilis typically begins with a sore (called a “chancre”) on the skin that initially exposed to the infection — usually the genitals, rectum or mouth. The sore has been described as feeling like a button: firm, round, usually measuring half-an-inch across, and not tender to the touch. Swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin may occur, but the nodes are not usually tender either.

Infected individuals do not usually feel ill in the primary stage of syphilis, and the chancre heals spontaneously after 4 to 6 weeks. This is a problem because the syphilis has not gone away. Syphilis continues to spread throughout the body.

Signs and Symptoms of Secondary Syphilis

From the primary stage the disease moves into the secondary stage of syphilis. Secondary syphilis can often occur several weeks after the chancre heals, once the bacteria have spread through the body. An individual may feel sick’ common symptoms include headache, achiness, loss of appetite and maybe rash.

The rash in secondary syphilis is usually reddish-brown in color, not itchy and widespread. However, the appearance of the rash’s individual lesions can vary dramatically: they may be flat or raised; they may or may not be scaly; and there may or may not be pustules present. It is partially do to the variability of this rash that led to syphilis being called “the great imitator,” because it can resemble many other conditions. The rash can last for a few weeks or months.

Other symptoms of secondary syphilis include sores in the mouth, nose, throat, and on the genitals or folds of the skin. Lymph node swelling is common and patchy hair loss can occur. All the signs and symptoms of the second stage of syphilis will disappear without treatment in 3 weeks to 9 months, but the infection will still be present in the body.

Signs and Symptoms of Latent Syphilis

The latent stage of syphilis, which occurs after the symptoms of secondary syphilis have disappeared, can last from a few year to up to 50 years! There are no symptoms in this stage, and after about 2 years an infected man may cease to be contagious. However, a man in the latent stage of syphilis is still infected and the disease can be diagnosed by a blood test. During the latent stage, a pregnant woman can transmit syphilis to her fetus.

Signs and Symptoms of Tertiary Syphilis

The final stage of syphilis, which occurs in about one third of those who are not treated, is known as the tertiary stage. Many organs may be affected. Common symptoms include fever; painful, non-healing skin ulcers; bone pain; liver disease; and anemia. Tertiary syphilis can also affect the nervous system (resulting in the loss of mental functioning) and the aorta (resulting in heart disease).”

This is what the USA government had to offer Guatemala citizens in the way of an apology – outlined in the (http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2010/10/us_apologizes…) Washington Post:

“The sexually transmitted disease inoculation study conducted from 1946-1948 in Guatemala was clearly unethical. Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health. We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices. The conduct exhibited during the study does not represent the values of the United States, or our commitment to human dignity and great respect for the people of Guatemala. The study is a sad reminder that adequate human subject safeguards did not exist a half-century ago.

Today, the regulations that govern U.S.-funded human medical research prohibit these kinds of appalling violations. The United States is unwavering in our commitment to ensure that all human medical studies conducted today meet exacting U.S. and international legal and ethical standards. In the spirit of this commitment to ethical research, we are launching a thorough investigation into the specifics of this case from 1946. In addition, through the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues we are also convening a body of international experts to review and report on the most effective methods to ensure that all human medical research conducted around the globe today meets rigorous ethical standards.

The people of Guatemala are our close friends and neighbors in the Americas. Our countries partner together on a range of issues, and our people are bound together by shared values, commerce, and by the many Guatemalan Americans who enrich our country. As we move forward to better understand this appalling event, we reaffirm the importance of our relationship with Guatemala, and our respect for the Guatemalan people, as well as our commitment to the highest standards of ethics in medical research.”

All very noble of course but had Susan Reverby not uncovered this appalling research, then would this apology ever happened? No, of course not. Just like no apologies are being made to all the girls used as guinea pigs in the (http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles…) HPV vaccine trials carried out by GSK. It is not until many years later when people are dead and buried that apologies – however noble – are made.

The US government forgets that these experiments were carried out on fathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers and sons. These were people who had their civil human rights and common decency stripped from them in an inhuman and disgusting experiment. Why? Because they could!

About the author

Christina England, BA Hons