The Evil Nazis and Their Medical Experiments
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U.S. government researchers who purposely infected unwitting subjects with sexually transmitted diseases in Guatemala in the 1940s had obtained consent a few years earlier before conducting similar experiments in Indiana, investigators reported Monday.
The stark contrast between how the U.S. Public Health Service scientists experimented with Americans and Guatemalans clearly shows that researchers knew their conduct was unethical, according to members of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, which is investigating the experiments.
“These researchers knew these were unethical experiments, and they conducted them anyway,” said Raju Kucherlapati of Harvard Medical School, a commission member. “That is what is reprehensible.”
At least 5,500 prisoners, mental patients, soldiers and children were drafted into the experiments, including at least 1,300 who were exposed to the sexually transmitted diseases syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid, the commission reported. At least 83 subjects died, although the commission could not determine how many of the deaths were directly caused by the experiments, they said.
“This is a dark chapter in our history. It is important to shine the light of day on it. We owe it to the people of Guatemala who were experimented on, and we owe it to ourselves to recognize what a dark chapter it was,” said Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania, the commission’s chairwoman.
The revelations came on the opening day of a two-day hearing the commission convened to review the findings of its investigation. President Obama ordered the probe when the experiments were revealed in October. Investigators reviewed more than 125,000 documents from public and private archives around the country and conducted a fact-finding trip to the Central American nation.
The Guatemalan government is conducting its own investigation. The experiments were approved by some Guatemalan officials.
“Actually cruel and inhuman conduct took place,” said Anita L. Allen of the University of Pennsylvania. “These are very grave human rights violations.”
In one case described during Monday’s two-hour hearing, a woman who was infected with syphilis was clearly dying from the disease. Instead of treating her, the researchers poured gonorrhea-infected pus into her eyes and other orifices and infected her again with syphilis. She died six months later.