2010 Webinar: The Guatemalan Inoculation Study

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The Guatemala syphilis study, unearthed by medical historian, Susan M. Reverby, is another shocking and sadly familiar example of the abuse of human subjects in research.

Ms. Reverby presented her findings in a webinar titled The Guatemalan Inoculation Study: Susan M. Reverby on Research Ethics and Lessons for HRPPs, which addressed the horrific story of US public health researchers intentionally infecting hundreds of people in Guatemala, including mental patients, with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge.

A professor at Wellesley College who has published two books about the US Public Health Service Syphilis study that took place in Tuskegee, AL, Ms. Reverby shared her findings and insights on what today’s research professionals may learn from this astounding example of immoral research practices that occurred more than 60 years ago.

This webinar covered:

  • The story of a research study involving deliberate infection of human subjects with sexually transmitted diseases without permission or consent
  • The aspects of this study that distinguish it from other examples of human subjects abuse
  • The ways in which this story illustrates the importance and potential weaknesses of our current system of research protections


Susan Reverby
Susan M. Reverby is the Marion Butler McLean Professor in the History of Ideas and professor of women's and gender studies at Wellesley College and an historian of American women, medicine and nursing. The first hire at Wellesley in Women's Studies in 1982, she has taught at the college for nearly three decades. She is the co-editor of America's Working Women: a Documentary History (1976); Health Care in America: Essays in Social History (1979); and Gendered Domains: Beyond the Public and Private in Women's History (1992). She was the editor of The History of American Nursing: a 32 Volume Reprint Series (1982-83). Her prize-winning book, Ordered to Care: The Dilemma of American Nursing (New York: Cambridge University Press, l987) is still considered one of the major overview histories of American nursing.

She has completed two books on what is referred to as the infamous "Tuskegee" Syphilis study (1932-72), the longest running non-therapeutic research study in U.S. history that involved the United States Public Health Service and more than 600 African American men in the counties surrounding Tuskegee, AL. The men thought they were being "treated," not studied, for what they thought of as "bad blood." The study has become a central metaphor for distrust of the health care system and as the key example of unethical research. She was a member of the Legacy Committee on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that successfully lobbied President Bill Clinton to offer a public apology to the surviving men and their heirs in l997. Her edited book of articles and primary documents on the study appeared in 2000 (Tuskegee Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study). Her new book, Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and its Legacy came out in 2009. It won the Arthur Viseltear Prize from the Medical Care Section of the American Public Health Association in 2010. Please see the following website for more information: http://www.examiningtuskegee.com.

Ms. Reverby's scholarship has appeared in a wide range of publications from scholarly journals to editorials in the popular press. Her work on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study has appeared in England in both the Times Education Supplement and in the Postgraduate Medical Journal. She has spoken widely in the United States, Australia, Canada, and Sweden, on the history of gender, ethics and health care issues. She is a frequent commentator on health, gender and race issues in public forums.

Ms. Reverby received her BS degree from Cornell University in industrial and labor relations with a focus on labor and economic history. Her MA is from New York University and her PhD from Boston University in American studies. She has worked as a community organizer in New York and as a women's health activist. She spent three years as a health policy analyst at the Health Policy Advisory Center in New York in the early l970s, focusing on women's health and nursing issues. From 1993-1997 she served as the consumer representative on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Obstetrics and Gynecology Devices Advisory Panel and from 1998 and 2007 served on the Board of Directors of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts.

Certificates of Attendance

Certificates of Attendance for the The Guatemalan Inoculation Study: Susan M. Reverby on Research Ethics and Lessons for HRPPs webinar were made available at the conclusion of the webinar. Such certificates are useful for obtaining Continuing Education Credits (not Continuing Medical Education Credits) from professional associations. Note that guidelines concerning Continuing Education Credits may differ, and you should consult the appropriate professional association representative for further guidance.

Continuing Education (CE) Credit for CIP® Recertification
Webinar participants holding the CIP credential who wish to apply credits from The Guatemalan Inoculation Study: Susan M. Reverby on Research Ethics and Lessons for HRPPs toward CIP recertification may submit a Certificate of Attendance as documentation of participation. Participation in this 60-minute webinar counts as 1 CE credit hours.