Last week, the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues revealed that United States federal government researchers purposely infected unwilling Guatemalans with deadly sexually transmitted diseases (syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid) back in the 1940s.
Between 1946 and 1948, U.S. personnel experimented on more than 5,000 Guatemalans — including prisoners, mental patients, and even children — without their consent. At least 83 Guatemalans died during the project.
In at least one case, a woman dying from the syphilis she had been given was infected with other diseases to boot. Unconscionable.
One commission member, Raju Kucherlapati of Harvard Medical School said, “These researchers knew these were unethical experiments, and they conducted them anyway.”
Anita Allen of the University of Pennsylvania added, “These are very grave human rights violations.”
Commission chair Amy Gutmann pointed out that, “This is a dark chapter in our history. It is important to shine the light of day on it.”
She’s right. And note that this dark crime was committed by members of America’s “greatest generation.” When some people have power over others bad things seem to happen — throughout history, even among people like us. Not surprisingly, holding power accountable, especially when it’s exercised thousands of miles or oceans away, has proven mighty difficult.
This ought not be repeated. If we are the government, we must do something about it. But in an era of secret CIA prisons, what’s really to prevent it from happening again?
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.