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The Guatemala STD Experiments: What they are, how they happened, and why they matter to you

by khepler Jul 15, 2015
When Apr 07, 2014
from 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM
Where Foster Auditorium, 102 Paterno Library,
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The Guatemala STD Experiments: What they are, how they happened, and why they matter to you


In 1946, several members of a U.S. Public Health Service team traveled to Guatemala to conduct federally-supported sexually transmitted disease research to aid STD prevention in the U.S. Armed Forces. By the time they left in 1948, over 1,300 vulnerable Guatemalan subjects had been intentionally exposed to syphilis, gonorrhea, and/or chancroid through invasive and painful procedures. Over half of these subjects never received any treatment for their potential infections. The research was never published.

When the experiments were later uncovered and brought to the Administration in 2010, President Barack Obama personally apologized to President Álvaro Colom of Guatemala and assigned his Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to conduct a historical and ethical analysis of the experiments. So what really happened in Guatemala? If the research was “ethically impossible” why did the U.S. government fund and support it? What do we do with the otherwise cherished legacies of those involved? And why do we still care?

This presentation will lay forth the facts of not only what happened in Guatemala from 1946-48 but also the institutional context and research ethos that enabled them. It will argue, however, that despite the current robust human research regulations in place it is impossible to completely prevent a researcher from ever having to make an ethical assessment in a challenging environment. This type of casuist analysis is critical to both scientific and medical education.

Listen to a podcast preview.

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KayteKayte Spector-Bagdady


Kayte joined the Commission staff in 2010 after working as an attorney advising drug and device companies on FDA compliance and pro bono for an international children’s health NGO. Kayte received her J.D. and M. Bioethics from the University of Pennsylvania Law School and School of Medicine respectively after graduating from Middlebury College. Kayte’s interest and publications focus on reproductive justice, genetic testing, drug and device regulation, and teaching research ethics.


For an audio podcast preview, listen to The Rock's Podcasts.

Read the Rock Blogs for a guest post by Kayte.

Register for this event. Can't make it? You can view the streaming presentation on The Penn State University Library streaming website*. Additionally, we will be Live Tweeting the event and accepting questions from those who use @rockethicspsu or #RELS14 in their Tweet.

Part of the Research Ethics Lecture Series.

This lecture is SARI@PSU approved for participation credit. This credit is only given to those who attend the live, on-campus lecture in person.


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*Not available for SARI@PSU credit.

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