Cutler, who died in 2003, supervised medical research in Guatemala in the 1940s in which 700 mental patients, soldiers and others were infected with syphilis and gonorrhea without their knowledge or consent.
Cutler conducted similar research on blacks in Tuskegee, Ala., later. The notorious Tuskegee experiment that ruined the lives and health of an estimated 600 African-Americans didn't end until the CBS news program "60 Minutes" exposed it in the early 1970s. The patients believed they were being treated for sexually transmitted diseases, but some were only monitored and given placebos.
An effective penicillin treatment was available by the 1940s, but it was not administered or offered. Cutler and his colleagues violated the Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm" to their patients in both Alabama and Guatemala.
Decades later, President Bill Clinton apologized for the Tuskegee experiments. Upon learning of Cutler's work in Guatemala, President Barack Obama apologized to that country in 2010. In response to mounting outrage over work conducted under the supervision of the U.S. surgeon general, Mr. Obama ordered a presidential commission to assemble detailed reports about the activities of Cutler and his colleagues in Guatemala from 1946 to 1948.
Originally released in December, the reports described Cutler's ethically compromised practices and the shoddy documentation of his work in Guatemala. From the perspective of modern observers, it was a disgrace. Last week, the report on Cutler's work in Guatemala was released online for the first time. Among the contents are a spreadsheet of the research subjects and new links at www.bioethics.gov to historical documents.
Cutler is no longer around to defend himself, but it's hard to conceive how he would defend the indefensible, though he did attempt to justify his work in Alabama when it came to light. Some argue that it is unfair to judge his actions by contemporary standards, but it's clear that he violated the mores of his own day. His legacy will be long, dark and tragic.