Monday, October 4, 2010

In the Name of Science, Part 2

Last Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius apologized on behalf of the US Government for experiments performed on Guatemalans in the late 1940s without their knowledge or consent. In yet another case of dubious "science" involving institutionalized medical patients and prison inmates, "medical researchers" co-sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, the NIH, the Pan-American Health Sanitary Bureau (now the Pan American Health Organization) and the Guatemalan government infected 696 human beings with syphilis and gonorrhea. Many of those infected were encouraged to pass the infection on to others as part of the study. A third of those deliberately infected never received "adequate treatment" (meaning, I suppose, that they were the control group and thus not allowed the benefit of penicillin). According to the article in the Guardian, the records of the experiments, which had been "hidden," were revealed by Susan Reverby, a professor of women's studies at Wellesley College, who then posted them on her website:
Reverby, who has written extensively about the Tuskegee experiments, found the evidence while conducting further research on the Alabama syphilis study.
Only a few years later Guatemalans attempted to shake off US corporate domination electing Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. The attempt was short-lived, for the CIA's coup d'etat put an end to Arbenz's presidency and replaced Arbenz with a military puppet. I have to wonder, given the Nazi "Doctors' Trial" held in 1947, whether the "medical researchers" ever had second thoughts about what they were doing. Or did they think the people they were experimenting on weren't really human? Most people think doctors are healers. Do most doctors think that, I wonder? Is there a conflict between being a healer and being a scientist? Can doctors, ethically, assume the role of scientist when the experiments they're conducting involve deliberately infecting healthy people? Though what kind of "scientific" protocol insists on not curing a disease it's inflicted when its investigators know perfectly well how to do so?

Questions, questions. That's all I have when it comes to this kind of thing.

1 comment:

Nancy Jane Moore said...

It just makes me think of Animal Farm: "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

But it still boggles my mind that doctors -- particularly in the post-WWII period -- could actually infect a person with a serious illness, even if they had convinced themselves that these human beings were in some way lesser beings.

I am also horrified by the sterilizations of those deemed mentally disabled -- another example of medical abuse -- but I can at least see how doctors who did that could convince themselves they were doing the right thing. In the case of the Guatemalan program, I don't see how they could live with themselves.

Some of those doctors must still be alive; I hope someone interviews them and asks them this question.