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Wed May 27, 2015, 03:28 PM

The Guatemala Experiments

The Guatemala Experiments

In the late 1940s, a group of doctors and researchers traveled to Guatemala and conducted extensive and often ghastly STD experiments there. This is the story behind who was responsible, what the test subjects did and didn’t know, and the onerous task of meting out justice.

Mike Mariani · 5 hours ago

On April 1, close to 800 plaintiffs filed a $1 billion suit in Baltimore City Circuit Court that alleges that, in the 1940s and ’50s, doctors and medical researchers from Johns Hopkins University played a substantial role in experimenting on hundreds of Guatemalans, inoculating them with sexually transmitted diseases—including gonorrhea, syphilis, and chancroid—and using various methods to transmit the diseases to their subjects.

The lawsuit specifically alleges that, between 1945 and 1956, physicians and scientists from Johns Hopkins were involved in exposing prison inmates, psychiatric patients, prostitutes, and soldiers to the aforementioned STDs, as well as potentially infected animal fluids and tissue. The plaintiffs are threefold: direct survivors of the experiments; spouses and children of test subjects who themselves contracted venereal disease, either sexually or congenitally; and descendants who are filing wrongful death suits for parents and relatives who died from complications resulting from the experiments.

There are several pressing questions. Who, specifically, was responsible for this non-consensual experimentation on human subjects? What sort of subterfuge, if any, was used to infect so many Guatemalans? And why did it take half a century for these experiments to see the light of day?

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To understand exactly who was involved in the Guatemala experiments and gauge their levels of accountability, it's important to understand the historical context out of which the experiments rose.


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