Guatemalans Threaten to Sue U.S. Government over Secret Syphilis Experiments

Friday, March 11, 2011
Dr. John C. Cutler
The U.S. government will be facing a lawsuit from the heirs of 700 Guatemalans unless it offers a satisfactory settlement for a 1940s experiment that exposed them to syphilis.
From 1946 to 1948, Dr. John C. Cutler injected orphans, prisoners and mental patients living in Guatemala with syphilis to see how the disease was transmitted and whether penicillin would serve as a cure.
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.
Details of Cutler’s Guatemala experiments were uncovered by Susan M. Reverby, a professor at Wellesley College, who authored the book Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


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