Research Ethics Blog

Guatemala’s Own Tuskegee

Here’s another sad example to add to the annals of why-research-ethics-is-important.

Here’s the story, by Robert Bazell for MSNBC: U.S. to Apologize for STD Experiments in Guatemala

U.S. government medical researchers intentionally infected hundreds of people in Guatemala, including institutionalized mental patients, with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission more than 60 years ago.

Many of those infected were encouraged to pass the infection onto others as part of the study.

About one third of those who were infected never got adequate treatment.

On Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius offered extensive apologies for actions taken by the U.S. Public Health Service.

For people familiar with the world of Human Subjects Research, this story will immediately bring one word to mind: Tuskegee. (For everyone else, see here: Tuskegee syphilis experiment.) Like Tuskegee, this was a government-funded study. And like Tuskegee, the topic was STDs. And, like Tuskegee, there were serious violations of what we now see as absolutely basic ethical standards for research on human beings. The similarities between the two cases is not incidental. The records of the Guatemala study were apparently unearthed by Susan Reverby, a Wellesley College professor who has written extensively about Tuskegee.
See an update here: Guatemala Update