Dirty Little Secrets: Prostitution and the United States Public Health Service's Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study in Guatemala
Gallagher-Cohoon, Erin 1990-
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Between 1946 and 1948, Guatemalan prostitutes were hired by American medical researchers to engage in sexual intercourse with prisoners and soldiers. These women were among the non-consenting and often overlooked subject-groups of the United States Public Health Service's Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study, a human experiment that tested venereal disease prevention among vulnerable populations. The prostitutes were considered to be, although they were not always in actuality, vectors of disease. Archival material exposed in 2010 by historian Susan Reverby triggered a report by the United States' Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. As the Commission acknowledged, the USPHS Study in Guatemala is of great contemporary relevance because current public health initiatives, especially in a globalized health economy, raise parallel ethical questions related to foreign drug trials, globalization, and the precarious balance between the advancement of medical knowledge and the protection of individual rights. Moreover, the study's reliance on prostitutes draws our attention to the gendered nature of medical experimentation and the unequal power dynamics within clinical settings that leaves certain populations more vulnerable than others. The USPHS researchers justified their presence in Guatemala because of the country's legal prostitution system. Prostitutes themselves, however, were dismissed, neglected, and disrespected. The official records do not simply catalogue which experimental procedures were being used on which institutional populations; they also judge the social, racial, and gender positions of the subjects. Using critical discourse analysis, this thesis compares the researchers' actions and their language. I argue that the researchers were using prostitutes' bodies for supposed disease transmission because of preconceived notions about female sexuality, and infection rates.
DegreeMaster of Arts (M.A.)
CommitteeHandy, Jim; David, Mirela; Downe, Pamela
Copyright DateAugust 2016
United States Public Health Service