Human Guinea Pigs

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
October 06, 2010

Scientist injecting patient in Tuskegee Syphilis StudyIt was a stunning announcement. The news reverberated around the world: United States researcher Government guilty of intentionally injecting hundreds of Guatemalans, including institutionalized mental patients, with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or permission. From 1946 to 1948, Dr. John Cutler and his colleagues conducted their studies with the blessings of the United States Health authorities and the Guatemalan government.

In a synopsis of this horrible experiment, Wellesley College professor Susan Reverby, the author of this riveting study, outlines the driving force behind this experiment that were performed on 696 men and women in Guatemala. She notes: “The doctors used prostitutes with the disease to pass it to the prisoners (since sexual visits were allowed by law in Guatemalan prisons) and then did direct inoculations made from syphilis bacteria poured onto the men’s penises or on forearms and faces that were slightly abraded when the ‘normal exposure’ produced little disease, or in a few cases through spinal puncture.”

This experiment in Guatemala was the continuation of one that began earlier in the United States. In 1944, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) did experiments at the Terre Haute Federal Penitentiary in the Untied States in which men were deliberately injected with gonorrhea to see if the disease could be prevented. In one case, the substance used in the inoculation was taken from the penis of one infected man and put into the penis of another infected man just to see how effectively things worked. They knew that when the syphilis bacteria were exposed to the air it dies. In Guatemala they had to be sure their experiment worked.

This story is so gruesome because it was conducted with the permission and knowledge of some of the highest health officials and organizations in the United States and Latin America. Cutler was a physician with PHS. His study was co-sponsored by the PHS, the National Institutes of Health, the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau (not the Pan American Health Organization), and the Guatemalan government. Every official organization was in on this experiment. The PHS wanted to see “whether penicillin could be used to prevent, not just cure, early syphilis infection, whether better blood tests for the disease could be established, what dosages of penicillin actually cured infection, and to understand the process of re-infection after cures.”

After they infected the subjects with syphilis they were given penicillin to cure the disease they had induced in the first place. It is not clear if these subjects were cured after penicillin was administered to them. Cutler did not wait to find out. After two years Cutler and his team left Guatemala and continued their work in the United States where they participated in the Syphilis Study in at the Sing Sing Prison. According to Professor Reverby, this study focused “on the immunological responses to the disease and to providing up to day science in the face of penicillin wide spread usage.”

Cutler was also involved in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiment in which 400 African Americans with late-stage syphilis were told they were being treated for “bad blood” while another 200 were treated with placebos, nursing visits and so on for forty six years (that is, from 1932-76). They, too, were sacrificed on the pedestal of science. Cutler and other had no problems using these African Americans as they used the Guatemalans as guinea pigs in their experiment.

It might be that Cutler’s commitment to scholarship led him to think he was doing a noble thing. He did nothing to hide his notes or the results of his experiment which accounts for the fact that they were calmly left in boxes that he or his relatives sent to the University of Pittsburg where they were stored. This is where Professor Reverby found them.

Cutler never thought he was doing anything wrong. He joined the PHS in 1942. In 1967 he joined the faculty of the University of Pittsburg as a professor of international health and served as dean from 1968-69. His obituary notice says that his service at the Public Health Venereal Disease Research Laboratory “led to his appointment to head the venereal disease research program of the Pan American Sanitary Bureau in Guatemala in 1948.” His period of service in Guatemala and his infamous experiment was passed over as though it never happened.

Cutler was unrepentant about the experiments that he and his colleagues carried out on African Americans from 1932 to 1976. In 1993, in a PBS Nova documentary, “The Deadly Deception,” he defended his action in Tuskegee as though nothing unusual had taken place. He bemoaned that the Tuskegee Study had “been grossly misunderstood and misrepresented…It was concern for the black community, trying to set the stage for the best public health approach possible and the best therapy, that led to the study [that was] being carried out.”

Without blushing an eye, he continued: “We were dealing with a very important study that was going to have the long-term results of which were actually to improve the quality of care for the black community so that these individuals were actually contributing to the work towards the improvement of the health of the black community rather than simply serving as merely guinea pigs for the study. And of course I was bitterly opposed to killing off the study for obvious reasons.”

His wife Eliese Cutler, a Wellesley alum, was equally implicated. She assisted her husband in the administration of the experiment. She photographed the subjects and the inoculations just for the record. It was all part of a day’s work. Like his Tuskegee experiment, Dr. Cutler would have maintained that his study in Guatemala was in the best interest of humanity. I am not sure the subjects of his experiments shared his views.

On Friday evening after the news broke, I congratulated Susan on her success. After all, we have been colleagues for over twenty years. She responded: “Thanks Selwyn for your kind note. I really appreciate it. I’ll be happier when these fifteen minutes are up. Even better news yesterday for me personally: the Tuskegee book [Examining Tuskegee] won the Emerson Prize from the Phi Beta Kappa. We labor long and quietly in the archives and in our studies, and occasionally someone notices.” In this case, the world has noticed Susan’s work.

Susan deserves the international recognition she has received for her discovery. Well done sister and keep up the work.

15 thoughts on “Human Guinea Pigs”

  1. What is unusual about this study is its being newsworthy.

    The US and other industrialiseds countries routinely run tests on their unsuspecting citizens. Canada, in conjunction, tested airborne bacteria in train stations to see how its regional hospitals and staff would respond to a biological attack.

    In Montreal, for years, the CIA used hallucenogenic drugs in a test to achieve what their man, Edinburgh-educated Dr. Ewan Camaron called, “de-patterning and psychic driving” by which to wipe out a person’s memory and completely replace it with one more malleable.

    What might also be of interest is the extent to which 3rd world countries in general, and Africa, in particular are the objects of the pharmaceutical industries in their perennial search for unsuspecting guinea-pigs.

    Often done with the connivance of unscrupluous politicians, the pharmaceuticals have designed the ultimate in duplicituous oxymorons: “for-profit ethical boards”.

    One unusual case of an African government taking on one of these corporations is that of the government of Nigeria recently taking on Pfizer, the largest in the world.

    Nigeria accused Pfizer of using a meningitis epidemic to test an unapproved drug on unsuspecting Nigerian children; some of whom were left with disabilities, and others who died.

    These experimentations go back aways, and done by both private-sector and public-sector criminals, as are chronicled in a book (1967) by Maurice Pappworth, Human Guinea Pigs.

    The question is to what extent are governments in the Caribbean the victims, unsuspecting and otherwise, to these unethical corporate practices? And with what effects, as experienced by Cuba a decade ago when their sugar-crop was wiped out by US biological weaponry.

    Are we vulnerable? Yes, and to the extent that we remain unaware or unconcerned about the new developments in biological warfare in and out of cyber-space in which whole countries are treated as experimantal labs and emergency wards.


      When will we realize that money cannot compensate for the loss of public trust; does nothing to reinstate the lives lost nor restore the sensitive biological balance of the human condition for those who escaped death; nor avoid the legacy of an inferior genetic inheritance for the all humankind. Case in point HeLa Cells: see link

      Cancer as we know it, was unknown to our ancient ancestors.

  2. There is also anecdotal evidence that people currently in US prisons are given the HIV virus to see its progression, and the contraceptiv Depo Provera was given to teenage Indian girls, who had never had babies, and some never recovered. The drug was clearly intended for women who alreay had two or more children. You understand why Oliver Tambo of South Africa was suspicious of the AIDS vaccination, as are other Africans.Once you get into the health system, they can gie you the virus, and then try to cure you. It would explainwhy in many parts of Africa its the women of chilbearing age who are dying off.
    Chiwoniso, th singer says in Swahili”Children beware, the stranger wants this land. Soon he will be arriving from across the ocen nd you will have to fight to survive. Childen, beware” In almost all of Africa the “stranger” is white personor an Indian or Chinee person. In mny countries there most of th doctors are foreigners. Who know what they are really giving the people? remember the Doctor of Death? he obytined antrx from th uS government and laced cigarettes, chocolates and beer sold to Black south Africans in Soweto.It was also placed on magazines that Black soldiers read in their barracks. the truth and reconciliation commission was shocked. Desmond Tutu cried at this and other attrocities.

  3. “You understand why Oliver Tambo of South Africa was suspicious of the AIDS vaccination, as are other Africans.Once you get into the health system, they can gie you the virus, and then try to cure you. It would explainwhy in many parts of Africa its the women of chilbearing age who are dying off.”
    Oh yes , we fully understand why South Africans would be suspicious of Aids vaccinations, but prefer to have males Aids victims instead ,rape SA virgins babies , in the hope that this instead would cure their maladies, while their government and so called caring , elitist leaders, under Nelson Mandela, and Embeke , silently look on , but do nothing ,and await some European savior, or better yet the new buffoonic Zulu President , with the ten wives, would set a nice example by sleeping with Aids infected prostitutes, then grab a hot shower ,go on TV ,and claim all will be fine, in the continent laden with idiot leaders.
    When would our similar elitist ,yet disingenuous ,so called conscious, and caring intellectuals, finally recognize that the best strategy for change, and aiding of the oppressed , abused , and neglected , is to demand that historical wrongs committed against the tribe by others ,be stamped out , and compensated for where warranted, while simultaneously ,demanding accountability , and new progressive ways of operation from within?
    “Lord put a hand, and if you cannot , then put a foot,” as the wisest woman that ever lived used to say.

  4. Neal, I would respond t your comment if I thought you had ever visited any African country, so, do share your list with me.

  5. Well I’ll be …What do you know , I spent some 2 years driving on this here information highway , and of all people Madame L ,dares to question me about my African sojourns.
    Now , if you were a male Madam L , I would tell you that pissing contest are best suited for kids , or perhaps drunken, ego inflated males attempting to impress on mainly female audiences, as to who deserves to take home the grand prize.I have developed too much respect for you to go down that route.Just hold on a lil bit and let me put this memoir together,in like manner to Uncle Obama . I too can relay dreams of my ‘Black SunGod father /
    Let’s just say that when I speak on any subject on this board , it is from a position of authority, and not mere regurgitations of empty commentaries, from CNN , BBC , or other skewed media houses.

  6. There is so much focus on the unethical nature of the study but the public deserves to know the actual results of the study. Are the serology tests accurate? Does antibiotics provide a cure or just a latency? We must not forget the controversy of a similar spirochete – Lyme. Will this ever be published?

  7. Nice post Rose; I’m not sure if anyone else is aware that humans; and for that matter all creatures that breathe oxygen, should not be able to exist in the same environment with this particular type of bacteria. The fact that they do, should automatically suggest human manipulation.

    Remember when ‘God’ created every creature in its place; which creature has been crossing the line ever since?

  8. Neal,I am not into pissing contests. I sit. No drama.. Go walk on African soil, under African sun. Get rid of the foolish ideas of Africa that have been stuffed into the heads of westerners Black, White and Brown, and them talk to me.

    As for the study, the fact that white people use others whom they ocnsider subhuman to do thei studies shoul sicken any thinking human, regardless of the supposed benefits of it. Why not use your own people, since the medicine will benefit them?

  9. Don’t worry Madame L ,as a fervent neo feminist you’ll find a way to emulate your male counterparts . No Madame L , an occasional one week British tea ,French Cheese, and biscuit women’s conference ,to discuss the demerits of female genital mutilations , in the safety of Joburg Hilton , while dress in ugly West African ,prison garbs imitation outfits,does not make you more African than yours truly , my good lady.
    To think that I thought you had the ability “to pick sense out of nonsense ,” as the wise lady would say .
    Again , I refuse to go down that road , in effort to achieve useless bragging rights. Let me just admit for the record that cumulatively , I have indulged in as much African sun , walk on enough African soil, and ‘physically engage,’ as many Africans ,to the same degree as you, and therefore I can now speak with as much authority, as those born on the continent themselves, or others with their lofty African History Phds.
    Give it a rest will you Madame L, and make your point. Funnily enough, I have seen more of parts of Asia than many of your Asian cousins that likewise jump on this board ,and daily pontificate about that world only after watching a few Bollywood decadent movies , and remembering the baseless stories of a great past by early indentured great grandparents.
    How could you hate dem shallow Trinis, one can enquire? Always striving to be global saviors, while selective portions of their country remains in squalor . Should you despise them for being more obsessed over distracting foolishness, as opposed to honestly getting engaged in matters of substance, that can finally elevate our country?

  10. Excuse me, Moderator, I will get off my educated woman kick for once to ask Neal What the f*** are you talking about? Who went to joburg?
    I have made a spiritual commitment NEVER to go to South Africa. You are as well informed about my whereaouts as the clouds in the sky are. The term African Skies is from Paul simon’s album and you made a leap from that and fell into a cowpat. i am fed up of your crap, the one you are sitting in now, and the verbal one you write. Bye.

  11. Lawd , Lawd , now the woman gorn staring mad,and exposed herself for even the blind to see. So now madame L wish to dismiss her Zulu,Xhosa, and Watusi brothers and sisters simply because some hungry Huston ,phony bible touting , business crook,West African Nigerian street peddler convinced her that her roots lie in his country , or probably with the Fulani in Senegal or Anlo-Ewe,from Ghana. Hopefully she did not decide to hand over her 400 acres , of none Brazilian Favelas land to any, with twisted motives.

    Warm redards

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