Held to be medical Guinea Pigs

A doctor in an Arkansas jail injecting ivermectin as treatment against COVID-19 despite advisory warnings against is follows a long history of medical experiments on inmates your Friday long read

We go to the Washington Post for this week's long read by Lydia Crafts read the whole article “Ivermectin experiments in Arkansas jail recall long history of medical abuse.” We include key excerpts below to convince you it’s worth your time!

Medical Negligence in Practice 

People detained at a jail in northwestern Arkansas recently reported that the facility’s medical professionals deceived them into taking ivermectin — a drug being touted by Republican lawmakers, talk show hosts and a small number of doctors and patient advocates for treating covid-19 — although the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the drug for this purpose.

Ivermectin can be toxic for humans and can cause vomiting, coma, seizures and even death. The jail’s doctor, Rob Karas, advocated ivermectin use on Facebook and claimed that 350 people detained at the jail voluntarily took the drug. However, Karas and nurses allegedly told inmates they were taking vitamins. Learning about Karas’s treatments through a news report, however, one man responded: “It was not consensual. They used us as an experiment, like we’re livestock.”

This incident recalls a period in the 20th century when doctors working in Guatemala for the Pan American Sanitary Bureau infected almost 1,500 marginalized Guatemalans, 

including Indigenous and poor people, prisoners, soldiers, women and the disabled with syphilis, gonorrhea and chancroid without their consent to study whether penicillin and other drugs prevented the spread of sexually transmitted infections. It reminds us how nonconsensual research and the experimental use of drugs on vulnerable people remain common — despite evidence of its danger and laws designed to prevent it.


U.S. doctors also went to Guatemala because their experiments deployed sex workers to pass STIs to Guatemalan prisoners and soldiers. Sex work was illegal in the United States, and Surgeon General Thomas Parran (who knew about the research in Guatemala and remarked that such experiments could never be done in the United States), had enforced its criminalization during World War II. Yet sex work was legal in Guatemala and women were allowed to visit male prisoners.

From the beginning, doctors dehumanized the people they experimented on — likening them to rabbits and calling them “Mayans from the backwoods.” U.S. doctors initially hired sex workers and infected them before they had sex with the men. When they encountered challenges infecting Guatemalans through “natural” methods, the doctors attempted to infect Guatemalans by injecting STIs into their urethras, rectums, eyes and by mutilating their genitals. In 1948, these experiments ended when Parran lost his appointment as surgeon general. Senior PHS members felt they had “lost a very good friend” and needed to “get our ducks in a line.”

The experiments remained secret for years after they ended, although PHS doctors gossiped about them, showing a startling indifference to the lives and health of Guatemalans.


As one incarcerated person said after the news broke about the ivermectin treatments:

“I’m scared. If you were so willing to put something in my pills and give me a pill without my acknowledgment, you could do the same thing and be deceptive and put it in my juice, my food. … I can’t trust any of the medical staff. I can’t trust any of the guards.” This lack of trust reflects his recognition of the violent and dehumanizing conditions of penal institutions that remain antithetical to care — even as we know the dangerous and deadly consequences of such treatment.

Read the whole article here.

COVID-19 resources: State policy changesNewsBureau of Prisons updatesState court changesPrison holistic self care and protection. Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook.

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