Last week it was revealed, at least to the masses, that the United States conducted STD trials on Guatemalan citizens over a two year period in the 1940s. Unfortunately, our black President had to issue the apology. The discovery was made by Susan Reverby, an historian studying the infamous Tuskegee Experiment conducted on black Americans. According to the Financial Times, she came across this information while doing research to “debunk the myth Tuskegee itself exposed subjects to infection rather than in fact depriving them of treatment.” Written that way, it almost seems as though she is suggesting the government’s role wasn’t that bad because they didn’t actually infect scores of black folk. They just watched. Which of course, makes this Guatemalan thing that bad. It’s the real fuckin’ deal!
But really, there is no need to compete on this topic because Tuskegee and Guatemala are drops in the bucket when it comes to testing on vulnerable populations. However, I will say what often makes some of the medical mistreatment of blacks so egregious is that we have been such important catalysts to medical discovery. So while Tuskegee was happening, whether blacks were infected intentionally or got syphilis on their own accord, there was a cure available. The withholding of treatment was not some random clerical error.
When the news of the Guatemala studies came forward it was really surprising to see almost universal surprise from news outlets to blogs to facebook posts. I expected exasperation, you know the thing you feel when you get the same bad news over and over. There seemed instead to be shock and where their wasn’t shock, there was Tuskegee. Of course, the comparison is fair given how the Guatemala studies came to light, but where’s the groundwork? Come on journalists! Guatemala and Tuskegee should not be surprises, nor should they be our only examples of improper medical testing on marginal communities. There are many others and it seems an opportunity was missed for this to be a “Teachable Moment.” Fuck an apology.
Instead, I have taken a tiny, tiny space in my blog to share a few other cases that should come to mind whenever medical malpractice involving powerless people is brought to light.
–Skin Experiments on Prisoners where many prisoners were given Herpes
–Sterilization Abuse on Drug Users “Don’t let a pregnancy ruin your drug habit.”
–HIV trials on New York Foster Children
–Gynecological experimentation on black slaves
I will not list them all. I will only say there are a million Guatemalas.
Below is the Democracy Now episode featuring Harriet Washington.