Justice for Guatemalan People: The U.S. STD Atrocities

Justice for Guatemalan People: The U.S. STD Atrocities
Diseases STDs
"Guatemalans Used in Experiments Deserve Compensation." New York Times Op-Ed July 4, 2012.

A diverse and growing alliance seeks justice for Guatemalan people in response to the concededly immoral and unethical atrocities United States health officials committed against more than 5,128 children, orphans, Guatemalan Indians, leprosy patients, mental patients, soldiers, sex workers and other vulnerable people who were test subjects in non-consensual human experiments beginning in 1946. Health officials intentionally infected more than 1,308 of these people with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and left most of them untreated. The alliance asks President Barack Obama, Congress, and federal agencies to do justice through the principles and goals below.

There are three wrongs at stake: one is the atrocities beginning in 1946; the second is the failure of the United States now to provide relief for the Guatemalan victims, some of whom are still alive, and their families, heirs and descendants through compensation and treatment; and the third is the failure of the United States to put in place legal and ethical prohibitions so human experiments like this never happen again.

These horrific experiments were made public only recently, in 2010. A Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (the Commission) has condemned this program as “impossible” under ethical standards. The experiments were not only possible — they happened, and the harms continue to this day. In a disturbing finding, “the Commission cannot say that all federally funded research provides optimal protections against avoidable harms and unethical treatment.” The recommendations of the Commission have not been implemented. While this atrocity has received some media attention, there has been little sustained public attention, no redress for the victims, and no action to prevent such atrocities.

The alliance is organized around the following draft principles and goals, based on human dignity, autonomy, respect, and equal justice:

• Victims of the Guatemalan atrocities and their families, heirs, and descendants receive equal treatment compared to the victims, families, heirs and descendants of the Tuskegee syphilis experiments.

• The atrocities were immoral and unethical, and, there are reasonable grounds to believe, illegal. Rape, battery and assault are immoral and unethical. They are also illegal. The Commission nevertheless has remained silent, for the most part, on legal responsibility and accountability.

• The United States revises current laws and ethical standards, and improves legal and ethics training of public health officials and investigators, to ensure the strongest possible human subject protections are in place to deter misconduct, provide just punishment, and compensate victims; and to ensure those protections apply domestically and to federally funded projects around the world. The United States should implement the Commission’s moral science recommendations now.

• Representatives of the Guatemalan people are included in the review and revision process.

• The United States fully and truthfully discloses the identity, actions and omissions of all individuals who held positions of institutional responsibility to approve, conduct, facilitate, fund, authorize, condone, tolerate, or conceal the atrocities; and identifies individuals who knew of, or had information about, the atrocities at relevant times. The Surgeon General of the United States approved the experiments, according to the Commission. Who above the Surgeon General knew, what did they know, when did they know it, and what did they do about it?

• The Commission publishes on the web in English and Spanish the two reports by the Commission — and the corresponding report by the Guatemalan government entitled Consentir el Daño: Experimentos Médicos de Estados Unidos en Guatemala, to include Guatemalan perspectives.

• The Commission publishes online the records and databases it relied on in its investigation. The Commission reviewed 125,000 pages. 12,000 pages are on the web.

• The atrocities directly harm the victims who were subjected to the non-consensual experiments, and diminish the common humanity of all us.

• “We should be ever vigilant to ensure that such reprehensible exploitation of our fellow human beings is never repeated,” in the words of the Commission.

Learn more about justice for Guatemalan people here.

Image “Migration of the Golden People” CARECEN 2002 © Judy Baca Courtesy of SPARC

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