Visualize yourself living in Guatemala in the late 1940’s. Then, imagine yourself being an inmate in a prison surrounded by felons. Or imagine that you’re locked in a room inside of a mental institution. You’re enticed to fornicate with a prostitute believing that it will be only for pure enjoyment. After you part ways with your fellow fornicator, you are told you have been intentionally infected with the sexually transmitted disease syphilis and/or gonorrhea. But you are told you will be treated and cured. What would go through your mind?
This type of unethical testing happened between 1946 and 1948 in Guatemala. The United States of America is just now apologizing for this immoral behavior. The research that was conducted was brushed under the rug until recently when Susan Reverby from Wellesley College in Massachusetts came across the files of these experiments. She posted on her website that this project was co-sponsored by the US Public Health Service, the NIH, the Pan-American Health Sanitary Bureau and the Guatemalan government.
The researchers were testing to prove that penicillin could prevent the contraction of these STD’s, not just cure them. They infected 696 people. Reverby goes on to report that it’s unclear whether everyone infected was treated and cured. Possibly only a third of the subjects were treated, the rest of these people were not.
I cannot imagine how these people felt. I would cry, become violent and I would want to die. Even though their circumstances were of low reputation they are still human. I can only assume that the researchers behind this had no compassion or understood the value of human life. To purposefully infect a human with a disease that could potentially be deadly is wrong and unethical. To hide that this scientific project happened just makes the whole scenario much worse.
If the victims of this study consented to this research, I could understand the experiment to a degree. But something leads me to believe that they did not, which is why this was hidden for 64 years. Although Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, and Kathleen Sebelius, Human Services Secretary, offered apologies to Guatemala, I feel what is done cannot be changed and the apology came too late. I am embarrassed that my country would do this.
Hearing of this makes me wonder if researchers are human. Not literally, but theoretically. I can’t comprehend that their conscience, the part of the brain that is sensitive to wrong doing, tells them that what they are doing is okay. They were deliberately using humans as test rats to practice science. If their studies were successful and everyone was treated properly, then why could they not do them in the United States?
It is unfortunate that science takes the unethical route to better the future. Rather than having the government entities jump on board to say who is a test subject, which could be called socialism or communism, there should be a place for people who want to volunteer to aid in the experimental developments or discoveries. We should not sabotage someone’s future regardless of where they are now on their roadmap to better another who seems to be more fit for society. Isn’t that playing the role of God?