Most have already forgotten the inhuman treatment of more than seven hundred Guatemalan prisoners and mental health patients sixty years ago at the hands of American medical researchers, not to mention the belated apology from the Department of State one year ago today.
Dr. John C. Cutler and his Public Health Service team performed secretive experiments in Guatemala, intentionally infecting indigenous peoples with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or consent. Dr. Cutler was later a lead researcher during the infamous Tuskegee experiment, in which black Americans with syphilis were denied information about their condition and left untreated for decades. He and others passively observed as more than one hundred black men died of the disease and related conditions.
Dr. Cutler insisted on defending these experiments in a 1993 Nova documentary, in which he claimed, “Some will die. It’s in the interest of the total society…They were serving their race.”
How could Dr. Cutler have justified such heinous crimes against humanity? His wife Eleise gives precious insight into his motivations, calling population control “one of her husband’s passions.”
The American Eugenics Society popularized the notion of controlling undesirable populations (primarily negroes and other non-whites) through forced sterilization, birth control, and abortion. After World War Two, a former President of the Society founded its successor, the Population Council, which the Cutlers supported financially for years.
It should come as no surprise then, that Eleise herself served on the board of Planned Parenthood, as vice president for the Pittsburgh Planned Parenthood Center. Dr. John Cutler went to bat for Planned Parenthood numerous times, denouncing large families, attending Planned Parenthood luncheons, and promoting birth control and abortifacients.
Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was one of Dr. Cutler’s contemporaries and also a member of good standing in the American Eugenics Society. Driven with the same fervor to reduce these “unwanted” populations, Sanger went further that Dr. Cutler in her Birth Control Review, saying, “While I personally believe in the sterilization of the feeble-minded, the insane and syphilitic, I have not been able to discover that these measures are more than superficial deterrents when applied to the constantly growing stream of the unfit… Eugenics without Birth Control seems to us a house builded upon the sands.”
Lasting decades longer than Cutler’s 40-year-long Tuskegee experiment, Planned Parenthood today targets minority neighborhoods so that black women’s share of abortions consistently are at least double their share of live births. Examples of Planned Parenthood’s enduring racism have been exposed by Live Action. Perhaps the greatest example of the Cutlers’ racial injustice is not their involvement in Guatemala and Tuskegee, but their lengthy entanglement with Planned Parenthood’s outright extermination of minorities.
The phantoms of medical malpractice in the past force us to come to terms with unethical practices of medicine today. The actions of Dr. Cutler were egregious precisely because of his assignment of dignity to some human beings while denying it to others. Yet without reexamining the ideas and motives that laid the foundation for Guatemala and Tuskegee, our society is doomed to repeating such crimes again. Today, American medicine experiments on human beings through so-called embryonic stem cell research. Our society discards unborn persons deemed unwanted and sub-human. Without reflection and action, words are empty. One year later, it is clear that an apology is not enough.