“I can’t let Cutler become a barbarian..."

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As the historian who discovered that the US infected Guatemalan mental patients, soldiers, sex workers and prisoners with syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases without their informed consent, Susan Reverby’s name has become inextricably linked with an infamous experimented. In this interview, she argues that John Cutler, the physician who led the study, was neither a sociopath nor a “mad scientist” and she raises important questions about the meaning of justice, our understanding of bioethics and what we should learn from this case.
This one’s got everything: US tax payer dollars paying sex workers and giving people a dreadful disease, it’s prisons, it’s mental patients, and it’s the US going to Guatemala where we overthrew the government six years later, so it has imperialism. It’s like a trifecta of horror. What’s sad about this is that it happened during this little window of progressive governance in Guatemala.
You always need a body, you need a Hitler.

I arrive at Susan Reverby’s home, in a leafy neighborhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on a cold ...