U.S. Judge Rules U.S. Immune from Paying for Infecting Guatemalans with Syphilis
Saturday, June 23, 2012
A federal judge has invalidated a lawsuit by victims of U.S. experiments involving venereal disease in Guatemala during the 1940s and 1950s.
For at least eight years, the U.S. Public Health Service experimented on Guatemalans without their knowledge or permission. Prisoners, orphans, prostitutes and soldiers were exposed to syphilis, gonorrhea and other diseases so American researchers, led by Dr. John C. Cutler, could study how the conditions spread among the population.
Cutler was the same doctor who, in the 1960s, also helped coordinate a study that began in 1932 in which 600 African-American men from Tuskegee, Alabama, with syphilis were left untreated for decades to observe the effects of the disease. Although the Tuskegee experiment was scandalous, the Guatemalan one was even worse because Cutler gave syphilis to people who were not already infected.
Survivors of the Guatemala testing filed a class action lawsuit seeking compensation for the damage done to them or family members. The litigation was opposed by the Obama administration, which rejected paying for the actions of federal officials decades ago. President Barack Obama did apologize to the Guatemalan people in October 2010.
District Judge Reggie Walton acknowledged that the experimentation represented “a deeply troubling chapter in our Nation’s history.” At the same time, however, Walton said the case could not continue.
He wrote that the court was “powerless to provide any redress to the plaintiffs,” and they should appeal “to the political branches of our government, who, if they choose, have the ability to grant some modicum of relief to those affected by the Guatemala Study.”
To Learn More:
U.S. Cleared for Giving Guatemalans Syphilis (by Ryan Abbott, Courthouse News Service)
Manuel Gudiel Garcia v. Kathleen Sebelius (U.S. District Court, District of Columbia) (pdf)
Should U.S. Compensate Guatemalan Victims of American Medical Experimentation? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Guatemalans Threaten to Sue U.S. Government over Secret Syphilis Experiments (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)
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