Guatemala, Tuskegee and Syphillis

Today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius issued a public apology to the people of Guatemala.

It seems the U.S. Government, from 1946-1948 purposely infected Guatemalans with sexually transmitted diseases as part of a research study. We infected prisoners, soldiers, mental health patients and prostitutes with syphillis, gonorrhea and chancres, and then documented whether or not Penicillin, relatively new at the time, was an effective treatment option.

Interestingly, U.S. Public Health Service Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study of 1946-1948 as it’s called, was conducted during the same time as the Tuskegee experiment, though we were infecting our own citizens in Alabama with syphillis for a much longer period of time- from the 1930s until the early ’70s.

Our government conducted both studies (for obvious reasons) in secret, and never told any of the victims that they were infected.

Both experiments were headed by U.S. Public Health Service worker Dr. John C. Cutler.

I’d say we need to string him up… or at the very least have him tried for human rights violations… but the lucky bastard died in 2003.

The current director of the U.S. National Institute of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, says these experiments represent a “dark chapter” in the history of medicine.

Indeed.

So…

… This morning Secretaries Clinton and Sebelius said sorry to the Guatamalan government for the atrocities our nation committed against theirs more than 60 years ago.

We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices… 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.

Um, hold on.

“We deeply regret that it happened“?

It didn’t just happen. Hurricanes just happen. Rain falling from the sky when the forecast calls for sun just happens.

One may be strolling down the street and may just happen to find a quarter laying on the ground.

Purposely infecting another country’s most vulnerable population with sexually transmitted diseases without their knowledge or consent does not just happen.

Nor does purposely infecting low income African American citizens of our own country with sexually transmitted diseases, and then leading the victims to believe they simply have “bad blood”, just happen.

Such atrocities require major funding- and in both of these experiments- the dollars came from the federal government. They require many people to work together, cooperating- plotting- against fellow human beings. Plotting to infect them against their knowledge (and therefore against their will) with terrible, often fatal, diseases.

This is what Hitler did to the Jews during the Holocaust. He rounded them up, simply slaughtered some of them, and then conducted inhumane medical experiments against millions of others.

How, exactly, was our country any better?

Are we better because we didn’t actually inter the poor black people we were inoculating with syphillis? Are we better because we didn’t make the mental health patients of Guatemala, while injecting them with Gonorrhea, wear a distinguishable Star of David on their lapels like Hitler made the Jews?

Our government was conducting these studies both before and after World War II, deceiving our own citizens as well as those in other countries, while simultaneously crying foul over Hitler’s horrific crimes against Jews and humanity.

It’s past the time for Americans to wake up. Our government has a bloody history, an evil history, the consequences of which are still being felt today.

Our representatives need to stop with the vague, half-ass apologies for what simply happened at the hands of our country, people need to stop attempting to re-write our history, and wake up.

This country has been- and is still- responsible for horrific violations. Terrible medical experiments, Salem witch trials, slavery, Jim Crow, Japanese internment camps, the McCarthy era, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay…

… And I haven’t even scratched the service.

The people of Guatemala certainly deserve something much bigger than an “We’re sorry it happened” from our government.

Oh- and if you wonder whether the families of the African Americans who were victimized by the government during the Tuskegee experiment ever received an apology, wonder no more.

The answer is no.

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