We are sorry that we intentionally infected you with syphilis
October 1, 2010 12:06 PM   Subscribe

Just heard about this on Radio 4. Appalling. Mengele didn't just live in Germany.
posted by Decani at 12:16 PM on October 1, 2010

A couple of corrections: This occurred from 1946-1948. It was the Tuskegee study that ran from 1932 to 1972. Also, your title reads "injected;" some of the prisoners were infected by using infected prostitutes.

It's also worth noting that one of the Tuskegee experimenters was involved in the Guatemalan experiment.
posted by nickmark at 12:19 PM on October 1, 2010

posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:24 PM on October 1, 2010

sorry not proofread at all (will see if I can request an edit). I always post these way too fast.
posted by Wolfster at 12:24 PM on October 1, 2010

Apparently we got away with a measly $9 million settlement from the Tuskegee experiment. I wonder how little (if anything) we'll pay the Guatemalans.
posted by jedicus at 12:24 PM on October 1, 2010 [2 favorites]

Very interesting reading at the University of Pittsburgh site on Dr. John C. Cutler, a "Friend of Pitt":

Dr. Cutler's early work was in the field of venereal disease. He was a part of the group of physicians who developed VDRL, the venereal diseases research laboratory test, which has become the accepted test for the diagnosis of syphilis. "We traveled all over the world together when he was doing research work in syphilis and gonorrhea," Eleise [his wife] explains. "He worked in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, in New York and also in Guatemala. And, I was with him every step of the way." Dr. Cutler's research also took the two of them to India where, while working for the World Health Organization, he organized a venereal disease laboratory for South East Asia.

Interesting side note: "Eleise, a graduate of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, also understood the importance of population control – one of her husband's passions. She has served on several boards, including Planned Parenthood, that assist in educating others on the importance of these and other issues."
posted by BobbyVan at 12:27 PM on October 1, 2010

Judging on what we paid the Nicaraguans....$0.00

Although to be fair we do, or at least used to, donate millions of dollars to Nicaragua every year through The Millennium Challenge.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 12:30 PM on October 1, 2010

Mod note: fixed the typos, carry on
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 12:35 PM on October 1, 2010

Mengele didn't just live in Germany.

Mengele didn't just live in Mengele.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:38 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I also think it's worth noticing that the Tuskegee experiments became public knowledge in 1972, and no apology from the government was offered until 1997. Whereas in the case of the Guatemalan experiments, the apology was issued before the article unveiling it has been published. None of that excuses anything about the experiments themselves, but I think it tells us something about a change in our own attitudes between 1972 and now.
posted by nickmark at 12:48 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

You mean better PR and image management?
posted by ryanrs at 1:03 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

And people thought the Human Centipede was offensive!

On a serious note; wow is this horrific.
posted by pyrex at 1:42 PM on October 1, 2010

Among the things I'm willing to straight up label evil, unethical medical experimentation is pretty much up there.

It's also sickening the people who come out to be apologists for these atrocities. They almost always jump to the false binary of "Well, (if you want to morally declaim it) you should never use modern medicine again!" - as if the only choices were science OR ethics and regard for one's fellow humans.
posted by yeloson at 2:03 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also to be noted that when this was done--not very long after Nuremburg trials-- we and our allied WWII winners established new ethical standards for science and medicine!

but this was ignored.
posted by Postroad at 2:24 PM on October 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Back in 1997, the New England Journal of Medicine published an article which identified a number of recent trials, mostly funded by CDC and NIH, of a new anti-AIDS drug designed to prevent the transmission of AIDS to an infected woman's fetus. In the studies done in the US, all of the women were given the drug. In the trials done in African and the Dominican Republic, the women, mostly poor and illiterate, were given placebos. The head of NIH defended this by saying "what we need to know is whether a medical intervention is better than nothing." Others argued that "local conditions" and "facts" are different in poor countries and thus it's okay to use completely different standards there when testing life-saving drugs.

In an accompanying editorial, "The Ethics of Clinical Research in the Third World," it was pointed out that the "local" treatment standard for medical research "could result in widespread exploitation of vulnerable Third World populations for research programs that could not be carried out in the sponsoring country … The retreat from technical principles may also be explained by some of the exigencies of doing clinical research in an increasingly regulated and competitive environment. Research in the Third World looks relatively attractive as it becomes better funded and regulations at home become more restrictive. Despite the existence of codes requiring that human subjects receive at least the same protection abroad as at home, they are still honored partly in the breach. The fact remains that many studies are done in the Third World that simply could not be done in the countries sponsoring the work. Clinical trials have become big business, with many of the same imperatives. To survive, it is necessary to get work done as quickly as possible with a minimum of obstacles."

The editorial noted: "It seems as if we have not come very far from Tuskegee after all."

I don't remember any comment on this in the mainstream media when it came out. The African women weren't being intentionally infected, but their children were being allowed to become infected and die, in order to bring to market a new drug - which they wouldn't have been able to afford anyway, so no loss.

I think you have to have access to a university library to get to the articles. For those of you so inclined:

Lurie, Peter; Wolfe, Sidney M. "Unethical Trials of Interventions to Reduce Perinatal Transmission of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus in Developing Countries." New England Journal of Medicine. 337(12):853-856, September 18, 1997.

Angell, Marcia. "The Ethics of Clinical Research in the Third World." New England Journal of Medicine. 337(12):847-849, September 18, 1997.
posted by williampratt at 2:59 PM on October 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wasn't there a movie about this?
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:52 PM on October 1, 2010

A very good movie I might point out.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 6:53 PM on October 1, 2010

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