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PORTSIDE  August 2011, Week 5

PORTSIDE August 2011, Week 5

Subject:

Panel Hears Grim Details of Venereal Disease Tests

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Date:

Wed, 31 Aug 2011 21:52:07 -0400

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Panel Hears Grim Details of Venereal Disease Tests

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
Published: August 30, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/31/world/americas/31syphilis.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all
 
Gruesome details of American-run venereal disease
experiments on Guatemalan prisoners, soldiers and mental
patients in the years after World War II were revealed
this week during hearings before a White House bioethics
panel investigating the study's sordid history.
Enlarge This Image

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 or
chancroid. 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.

"This was a very dark chapter in the history of medical
research sponsored by the U.S. government," Amy Gutmann,
the chairwoman of the bioethics panel and the president of
the University of Pennsylvania, said in an interview.

President Obama apologized to President Alvaro Colom of
Guatemala for the experiments last year, after they were
discovered.

Since then, the panel, the Presidential Commission for the
Study of Bioethical Issues, has studied 125,000 pages of
documents and has sent investigators to Guatemala. While
the panel will not make its final report until next month,
details emerged in hearings on Monday and Tuesday.

The most offensive case, said John Arras, a bioethicist at
the University of Virginia and a panelist, was that of a
mental patient named Berta.

She was first deliberately infected with syphilis and,
months later, given penicillin. After that, Dr. John C.
Cutler of the Public Health Service, who led the
experiments, described her as so unwell that she "appeared
she was going to die." Nonetheless, he inserted pus from a
male gonorrhea victim into her eyes, urethra and rectum.
Four days later, infected in both eyes and bleeding from
the urethra, she died.

"I really do believe that a very rigorous judgment of
moral blame can be lodged against some of these people,"
Dr. Arras said.

Also, several epileptic women at a Guatemalan home for the
insane were injected with syphilis below the base of their
skull. One was left paralyzed for two months by
meningitis.

Dr. Cutler said he was testing a theory that the
injections could cure epilepsy.

Poor, handicapped or imprisoned Guatemalans were chosen
because they were "available and powerless," said Anita L.
Allen, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania's
law school and a panelist.

The panel's hearings also brought to light that a local
doctor had invited the American researchers, and that
Guatemalan military and health officials had initially
approved the work. In 1947, an international conference on
venereal diseases -- based on the experiments -- was held in
Guatemala City, according to Dr. Rafael Espada, the vice
president of Guatemala, in remarks quoted by the
Guatemalan news media.

Dr. Espada, a physician, is leading his country's inquiry
into the matter and is expected to deliver his report in
October. On Monday, he told Guatemalan reporters that five
survivors, all in their 80s, had been found and would
receive medical tests.

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.

Also, one commission member added, "Regardless what you
think of the ethical issues, it was just bad science."

The results were never published in medical journals,
note-keeping was "haphazard at best" and routine protocols
were not done.

Elisabeth Malkin contributed reporting.

forthe rest of this article, go to
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/31/world/americas/31syphilis.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

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