U.S. officials have apologized for shockingly immoral experiments done on hundreds of Guatemalans in the 1940s, in an effort to test the effectiveness of penicillin in treating syphilis.
From 1946 to 1948, American public health doctors deliberately infected nearly 700 Guatemalan prison inmates, mental patients and soldiers, as part of the experiment. In some instances, syphilis-infected prostitutes were paid to sleep with prisoners, as part of the testing.
Susan Reverby is responsible for publicly exposing the details of this medical testing. A medical historian, professor at Wellesley College and author of Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy, Reverby was doing research about the Tuskegee study (in which black American men with syphilis were deliberately left untreated and observed for decades) when she came across the unpublished work of Dr. John C. Cutler, who led the experiment in Guatemala. Cutler also had an important role in the Tuskegee study. Reverby says, "As with Tuskegee, [the Guatemalan syphilis experiment's] lessons ended up being about morality."
Dr. Art Caplan, the Sydney D. Caplan Professor of Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, also joins us as well to discuss how the revelation of this experiment can affect the future of bioethics in the United States.