In February 1948, John C. Cutler injected a Guatemalan mental patient named Berta with syphilis.
A month later, she developed scabies, a skin disease, and a few weeks later Dr. Cutler noticed that she had lesions on her arms and legs and that her skin was wasting away.
He finally treated her for syphilis, but on Aug. 23 wrote that she appeared to be dying.
He wasn't sure what was killing her, yet on that same day he placed gonorrheal pus from a male subject into her eyes, her urethra and her rectum. A few days later her eyes had filled with pus and she was bleeding from her urethra.
She died on Aug. 27.
Berta was one of 83 subjects who died during the course of experiments and diagnostic testing conducted by Dr. Cutler and his U.S. Public Health Service colleagues on more than 5,000 subjects in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948.
Her story was among several included in a report released Tuesday by an ethics panel that has been examining Dr. Cutler's research at the direction of President Barack Obama.
The Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues concluded that Dr. Cutler, an assistant U.S. surgeon general and later a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, engaged in "egregious moral wrongs" in intentionally infecting about 1,300 Guatemalans with syphilis.
The report also concluded that his supervisors, including Surgeon General Thomas Parran, founder of Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health in 1948, approved of what Dr. Cutler was doing in the name of what he called "pure science."
"Rather than a faulty chain of command," the report says, "there was a failure of both professional and institutional leadership in disregarding the excesses of the Guatemala experiments."
... After reviewing more than 125,000 pages of documents detailing events from 1935 to 1956 and also traveling to Guatemala, a team of full-time researchers found that Dr. Cutler's experiments involved a total of 5,500 Guatemalans. He drew blood from and conducted spinal taps on many of them, including orphans and school children, and deliberately infected 1,308 inmates, mental patients, soldiers and prostitutes with syphilis to see if penicillin would cure it.
About half of those subjects were never treated. Researchers found that 83 of the 5,500 total died during the two years of the study, but they aren't sure what killed them.
2. Are there "research projects" in this country or others ongoing presently that have been shaped by the same ethical mold? I.e., the experts know best, informed consent is optional or unnecessary, and keeping track of known injuries and deaths is rarely done?