U.S. Government gave syphilis to Guatemalans

Have you seen this? This seems like a huge story to me, but it seems to be getting about a third the coverage of the Tyler Clementi story.

Picking through musty files in a Pennsylvania archive, a Wellesley College professor made a heart-stopping discovery: US government scientists in the 1940s deliberately infected hundreds of Guatemalans with syphilis and gonorrhea in experiments conducted without the subjects’ permission.

What? And people wonder why I don’t trust the U.S. federal government to look out for my best interests.

I’m supposed to want to trust the federal government to start running health care in this country? Really? Oh, but this happened in the 1940s, it would never happen today. Sure. And the government didn’t bother mention this to anyone before now because… it’s so trustworthy? Pull the other one.

No, I am not saying it was some widespread conspiracy. I’m saying this is what happens when the people in power believe they know better than everyone else. They perform unethical and immoral acts in secret, and all in the name of the common good.

In Tuskegee, scientists knew African-American sharecroppers had become infected with syphilis but withheld treatment, in the name of tracking the progression of the disease. In Guatemala, prisoners, soldiers, and inmates in mental asylums were willfully infected, sometimes by using prostitutes provided by the scientists, sometimes by pouring the germs onto skin abrasions the researchers caused.

The US scientists — who had received the blessings of Guatemalan health authorities — were among the leading lights in the field of sexually transmitted disease research. Flush with optimism in the dawning era of antibiotic treatment, they decided to expose vulnerable subjects to further their understanding of the effectiveness of the new drugs in treating sexually transmitted diseases. From 1946 to 1948, they tested their theories on about 1,500 Guatemalans; most who became infected received treatment, but at least one died.

Now read that again. And read it one more time. Read it until the meaning sinks in and you can never, ever forget it. With the best of intentions, about 1500 people were deliberately infected, and the government helped make it happen.

Oh I know. It could never happen now. I don’t believe it. The U.S. government is not now significantly more enlightened or more ethical than it was in the 1940s. And it is certainly no less convinced of its own greatness. And it is in the process right now of trying to take over the health care industry. Are you really willing to bet your health that the government would never do anything like this ever again?

Am I using scare tactics? Yeah, I guess I am. But then, I think you should be afraid of the amount of power the U.S. government has taken and is trying to take for itself. You should be concerned about  how the increase of power may and probably will erode protection of the individual. If you want to assume the government would never do something like that again, I’d like you to know that as part of a new stimulus bill that is going to be passed by the U.S. Congress very soon, the Brooklyn Bridge is soon to be torn down, and I can get you in on the ground floor of a deal to sell the stone bricks as souvenirs. No, really.

3 Responses to “U.S. Government gave syphilis to Guatemalans”

  1. Dear Sir,
    I respectfully ask you to forgive me for cracking up in hilarious laughter as I read this post and your previous post. I know these are very serious topics and I do take them very very seriously however, the way you present it just tickles my funny bone until I’m overcome with laughter to almost the point of hysterics. Please forgive me Sir.

    Respectfully yours,


    P.S. Please consider my “Like” to really mean “Love” on this post and the previous post. Thank you. Sir

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