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But there's no record of any Guatemalan's expressing ethical qualms with what they did know about.
Quite the opposite: Dr. Roberto Robles Chinchilla, the medical administrator of the Penetenciaria Central de Guatemala, wrote Cutler to express "our everlasting gratitude" for the "the noble and gentlemanly way in which you have alleviated the sufferings" of prisoners at the penitentiary.
"You have really been a philanthropist," he wrote in December 1948, as Cutler was finishing the main part of his research there.
The perception of philanthropy was understandable. The U.S. research money paid for a new laboratory in the headquarters building of Guatemela's national public health service.
At the meagerly equipped insane asylum where much of the syphilis research was conducted, U.S. research money paid for sorely-needed anti-epileptic medications, metal cups and plates, a new large refrigerator and even a movie projector for the residents' entertainment.
Patients who participated were rewarded with cigarettes, not to mention recognition and attention that they had not previously gotten at the understaffed facility. Some were so exuberant they kept trying to return to doctors for additional blood draws or other procedures, Cutler wrote.
But it's doubtful they understood the potential harms they were facing from being infected. Some mental patients did not even know their own names, he wrote.
Cutler later was involved in the infamous Tuskegee study, a different form of research in which black men in Alabama who already had syphilis were followed but not treated.
In 1990, Cutler donated a collection of roughly 12,000 pages of correspondence, reports, photographs, and patient records to the University of Pittsburgh. Cutler died in 2003.
The National Archives announced the records going online with a press release. "This is one more example of National Archives employees' commitment to openness and transparency," Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said in a prepared statement.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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