Government Sponsored Health Research: Let's See What Happens When We Infect Guatemalan Prisoners With Syphilis Edition


The New York Times reports on a gruesome taxpayer-financed, government-run venereal disease experiment run shortly after World World II:

From 1946 to 1948, American taxpayers, through the Public Health Service, paid for syphilis-infected Guatemalan prostitutes to have sex with prisoners. When some of the men failed to become infected through sex, the bacteria were poured into scrapes made on the penises or faces, or even injected by spinal puncture.

About 5,500 Guatemalans were enrolled, about 1,300 of whom were deliberately infected with syphilis, gonorrhea orchancroid. At least 83 died, but it was not clear if the experiments killed them. About 700 were treated with antibiotics, records showed; it was not clear if some were never treated.

The stated aim of the study was to see if penicillin could prevent infection after exposure. But the study's leaders changed explanations several times.

So scientists relying on federal funding did terrible, brutal things in the name of the larger public good, and tried to justify it using ever-shifting explanations? Surely, though, the researchers involved didn't know that what they were doing was unethical…right?

…Dr. Cutler's team took pains to keep its activities hidden from what one of the researchers described as "goody organizations that might raise a lot of smoke."

Members of the bioethics commission recalled Nazi experiments on Jews and said that Dr. Cutler, who died in 2003, must have known from the Nuremberg doctors' trials under way by 1946 that his work was unethical.

Also, according to Dr. Gutmann, Dr. Cutler had read a brief article in The New York Times on April 27, 1947, about other syphilis researchers — one of them from his own agency — doing tests like his on rabbits. The article stated that it was "ethically impossible" for scientists to "shoot living syphilis germs into human bodies." His response, Dr. Gutmann said, was to order stricter secrecy about his work.

Radley Balko noted research on the experiment here

[Link via John Goodman.]

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  1. To be honest, it was just fun. You know?

    1. Yes, just as much fun as it was for the corrupt research “scientist” Dr. Robert Gallo and the ambitious bureaucrat Dr. Anthony Fauci at the National Institutes of Health to create the single pathogen HIV theory of AIDS. It’s a fraud that has psychologically terrorized millions of gay men and black Africans, who are being fed toxic chemotherapy to combat their mysterious retrovirus. If you’d like to learn more:…..eport.html
      (And please spare me the ad hominem “denialist” attacks. I’ve heard them all. Do the reading. Educate yourself. It will take some time to understand how so many, have been so wrong, for so long.)

      1. How about ad hominem “libertarian Democrat” attacks instead, Terry? I know how much you love those.

      2. And please spare me the ad hominem “denialist” attacks.

        OK, how’s “fucking idiot” grab you instead?

  2. This is exactly why we need to have a strong central government to protect us from evil corporations and teh wealthy and the terrible things they would force us to do.

    1. u tell em monti !

      1. love canal, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the chemical company warn everyone not to build on the land but the school district forced them to sale anyway?

  3. Baaaaaaalkoooooooo!

  4. Government is fine; we just need better leaders.

    1. Wrong! They just need better citizens.

        1. It’s what they think. Most of the statists I know every once in awhile reveal their contempt for the voter and the common man. It’s how more totalitarian societies end up with camps for getting rid of people who don’t think and act properly.

          1. Not to Godwin the threat, but I believe there at the end hitler blamed the German people for failing him.

            1. I believe there at the end hitler blamed the German people for failing him.

              He did in Downfall, anyhow.

              1. I think there’s substantial evidence that he did. Shirer mentions this is The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.

          2. To be fair, I also have contempt for the average person, because the average person is an authority-worshipping statist.

            But I wouldn’t put them in camps against their will. Now if they voluntarily went to the camps…

            1. Right. A libertarian tyranny would pay people to walk into disintegration chambers.

              1. Voluntary Category 1.

              2. And those chambers would be privately-run.

                1. Right! No dirty, inefficient, compulsory disintegration chambers for the libertarian hegemony!

          3. The “governance by elites” mentallity has been pretty growing dramatically over the last decade or so. Team red wants the moral elites in charge. And team blue has a raging hard-on about putting intellectual elites in charge of the world — they-ve been outspoken about saying this is what they want to do as well. It’s no longer the dirty little secret that you only discuss with the right people.

            1. I think they made a tremendous mistake showing that they aren’t actually slightly to the left, liberal capitalist. Now that they’re openly acting anti-limited government and free markets, all while the economy goes to pot, well, discredited is a word that seems to apply.

              1. The only upside to the flame-out that is the Obama presidency is that maybe the general population will hold onto an anti-progressive mindset for a litte while at least.

  5. How people fear Corporations!? more than government is beyond me.

    1. Virtually everything they fear corporations doing has already been done by governments across the world.


      1. Government had good intentions when it did it.

      2. This reminds me of a piece I read. It seems that it’s all the rage of upper-middle class college students to say they plan to work for a non-profit when the graduate. They can’t really say which one, it’s just important that their employer be a non-prophi (because profits are evil). The funny thing is that they are too stupid to consider that the only organizations outside of government that finance non-profits are those evil for-profit businesses.

        1. If they’re that stupid, then they deserve to slave for the high-paid management while receiving a shitty salary. Very similar to going to grad school. What retards. HAHAHAHAHAHA

        2. The irony is that they won’t be working pro bono.

          1. Pro dumbo, maybe.

  6. They are ‘scientists,’ we are not capable of judging the merits of their work. It’s just too damned complicated for our simple minds… trust them, they know more than us. It’s was for our own good.

    1. “Back off, man. I’m a scientist.”

  7. But the free market drug companies would have done even WORSE things to these people! Herp derp

  8. “Dr. Cutler, who died in 2003, must have known from the Nuremberg doctors’ trials under way by 1946 that his work was unethical.”

    Well duh, how else would he know?

  9. Any day now, I expect to hear about the government’s secret “human centipede” research.

    1. That whole concept is flawed… I mean, c’mon. Four limbs per segment: it’s a human millipede.

  10. Jesus Christ this happened over sixty years ago.

    Now where did I leave my flagellation switch?

    1. Something about “forgetting the past” blah, blah “condemned to repeat it”.

    2. Well, if that wasn’t sarcasm then the government is spot on with classifying information for 50-100 years; calculating that people won’t care when it finally comes to light.

    3. Jesus Christ this happened over sixty years ago.

      Well, yes.

      But as long as we’re trying to be the good guys—and I’m still on board with that—we have to acknowledge our past faults, and make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated. Ideally we’d be able to punish the guilty, but it seems that these things come to light when none of them are around, which suggest that someone is protecting people.

      Otherwise we’re just pissing in the wind.

  11. Now, back in the the 40s, who were the bad guys? The ones imprisoning ethnic minorities and performing evil medical experiments, right?

    1. To answer my own question, it was the ones invading Russia and getting their asses kicked.

  12. Unless you are an expert on syphilis-infected Guatemalan prostitutes or can produce misleading computer models about scraping one’s penis raw, you have no business commenting on the practices of these scientists.

  13. Hey, it was government health care! Only the best!

    1. Hey, yeah, why don’t people bring up the intentional introduction of LSD and syphilis into unconsenting patients and God knows what else the government has done that we haven’t uncovered yet when talking about government healthcare?

      And we were such a wise, paranoid-about-government society once.

      1. Government always grows, ProL. Always. And as it grows, it propagandizes its own necessity and inculcates the citizenry in its benevolence.

        The sooner you accept that no government is the only answer, the better.

        1. I have a solution. Employ only robots to run the government. When they exceed their programmed authority, we reboot.

          1. Having benevolent AIs run everything, like in Neal Asher’s Polity, or Iain Banks’ Culture, is probably the only way “government” can work. Because you take the human element out of it.

            1. The only other options are totally benevolent superaliens or direct rule by the deity. The problem with those options is that I doubt we’d have any rebooting ability.

              1. …or direct rule by the deity.

                The Japanese tried this after the Meiji Restoration. Turns out it either, 1) doesn’t actually work very well, or 2) they were terribly mistaken about the Emperor actually being a diety.

                1. Yes, rule by the deity requires the deity to actually be the deity. And, incidentally, one would hope for benevolent rule, not Old Testament, wrath of God stuff.

          2. “When they exceed their programmed authority, we reboot.”

            And who gets to decide that? If SciFi has taught me anything, it’s that once computers become self aware, they will try to destroy humanity.

            1. About right then, we reboot them.

          3. I knew a robocommunist once. The ideal doesn’t appeal.

        2. It’s almost as if you’re saying that when you introduce deliberate bias into a system, you tend to obtain a biased result.

  14. My tax dollar paying for hookers for prisoners? Like they’re not already coddled enough!

  15. The large majority of people reading that article are thinking to themselves “Geez, I’m glad OUR government wouldn’t ever do something like that.”

    1. Post-WWII was like college. Everyone does a little experimenting.

    2. Had a strange moment while watching “The Expendables” a few weeks back. The female resistance leader was captured and water-boarded by the bad guys. Since I have it on the very best authority that water-boarding is not torture, I really couldn’t figure out how I was supposed to react to that scene.

  16. I understand that Ann Coulter has no problem with this.

  17. I heard about this on the radio the other day. Cutler is just a piece of work. He was right up in the middle of all the horribly unethical STD research the .gov was doing.

    Hell, I’m surprised he wasn’t in on feeding plutonium to the retards.

    1. And in a side note about the banality of evil, here’s his obit. Sounds like a hell of a guy, if you don’t know about the human experimentation.

      We each contain multitudes, I guess.

      1. I’m stealing this.

    2. You never go NUCLEAR FULL RETARD.

      Besides, can you imagine the devastation if you gave them mutant superhero ‘tard strength? It would make Superman look like Pee-Wee Herman.

      1. They only went half-retard, since the ‘tards just got radiation sickness and died. Even back then, they knew better than to accidentally create Super Mutants.

  18. “So scientists relying on federal funding did terrible, brutal things in the name of the larger public good, and tried to justify it using ever-shifting explanations? Surely, though, the researchers involved didn’t know that what they were doing was unethical…right?”

    I thought the official position here was that ethical criticisms of scientific experiments were anti-science?

    1. WIRED ran an “unethical experiments” issue two months ago. The interesting thing was that several of the experiments I couldn’t find anything unethical about.

      That said, I don’t think that ethical restrictions on science are bad. I just don’t think that ethics stands in the way of most science.

  19. It’s fairly obvious that Reason, like Perry, is anti-science.

  20. What we really needed were [COPMUTER MODELZ] to settle the science.

  21. This allllllll started when people stopped being hunter/gatherers…

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