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Guatemalan syphilis victims lose hope in legal battle against US

Thousands of Guatemalans were intentionally infected with STDs in the 1940s by US public health researchers. An appeal on their case against the US government was dismissed this week.

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 As a nine-year-old child, Marta recalled seeing her name on a list to go to the doctor’s office. An orphan, she had been living in the National Education Center since the age of six.

Before long, she would be prodded and poked every week for a year, receiving shots in her hip and shoulder, and having blood drawn.

“My mother tells us that she would ask over and over again, 'why are you doing this if I am not even sick?'" says Luis Estuardo Vasquez Orellana, one of Marta Lidia Orellana Guerra’s five children. His mother, who is still alive today, also underwent unnecessary back surgery and was left to rest hanging upside down on and off in post-surgery recovery for months.

It was 1946, and Ms. Orellana was one of thousands of Guatemalans who were unwittingly subjected to secret human experiments led by US doctors.

The experiments were brought to light by a US researcher in 2009, and a legal battle on behalf of victims and their families ensued. But now, nearly three years after beginning the legal battle in US courts, attorneys representing an estimated 5,000 Guatemalan victims used as guinea pigs and infected with sexually transmitted diseases in the 1940s by US public health researchers withdrew their appeal earlier this week, virtually ending the case against the US government.

The dismissal comes a year after a US District Court ruled the United States was protected under two immunity laws, the Federal Tort Claims Act and the International Organization Immunities Act.

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