The U.S.'s Twisted Syphilis Experiments in Guatemala

The United States carried out heinous experiments on Guatemalan prisoners in the 1940s, deliberately infecting them with syphilis via prostitutes. It took until today to apologize.

In a story that sounds a lot like the sickening Tuskegee study on African-Americans (which took place over four decades that encompassed the same period), government researchers sent prostituted infected with syphilis to Guatemalan prisoners and then tested penicillin treatments on them.


It was only discovered by a researcher at Wellesley this year, who was working the Tuskegee case and found that the Guatemalan experiments had taken place in army barracks and an insane asylum as well as the national penitentiary. In fact, one physician was involved both in Tuskegee and Guatemela. Almost 700 Guatemalan men and women were infected, and an investigation has been launched to try to trace them.

Kathleen Sebelius and Hillary Clinton issued a joint statement, saying in part,

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 infamous Tuskegee experiments went a long way in creating justifiable mistrust between the African-American community and the medical and governmental establishment for generations. Given the U.S.'s longstanding past record of surreptitiously tampering with the political affairs of the region, this is unlikely to help on that front in Guatemala.

Statement by Secretaries Clinton and Sebelius on a 1946-1948 Study []
U.S. Apologizes for Guatemala Syphilis Experiment [NYT]


Image of syphilis bacteria via BioMedical/Shutterstock

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