National Archives Releases Dr. John Cutler Papers Online

The National Archives at Atlanta recently released online the papers of Dr. John C. Cutler. Dr. Cutler, a former employee of the U.S. Public Health Service, 1942-1967, was involved in research on Guatemalan soldiers, prisoners, and mental health patients who were exposed to the syphilis bacteria. The collection is available at

The collection will also be available at the National Archives at Atlanta, located at 5780 Jonesboro Road, Morrow, Georgia, 30260.

This collection which consists of approximately 12,000 pages of correspondence, reports, photographs, and patient records was donated in September of 1990 to the University of Pittsburgh by Dr. Cutler. In September 2010, the University contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to request the transfer of the material to the Federal government. After examining the material, it was determined that they were Federal records and they were transferred to the National Archives at Atlanta in October, 2010.

National Archives employees performed holdings maintenance, reviewed for privacy concerns, scanned, printed, and inventoried the entire collection in four months.

Some of the files contain graphic medical images of the effects of untreated sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), including syphilis, which may not be appropriate for all audiences. The National Archives has made these files available to preserve the completeness of the historical record in this important area of research. Researchers will be given the option of opening such files or bypassing them.


From 1946-48, the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) and the Pan American Sanitary Bureau collaborated with several government

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agencies in Guatemala on U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded studies involving deliberate exposure of human subjects with bacteria that cause sexually transmitted diseases (STD).

Guatemalan partners included the Guatemalan Ministry of Health, the National Army of the Revolution, the National Mental Health Hospital, and the Ministry of Justice. Studies were conducted under the on-site direction of John C. Cutler, MD in Guatemala City, under the supervision of R.C. Arnold MD and John F. Mahoney, MD of the USPHS VDRL in Staten Island, New York; the primary local collaborator was Dr. Juan Funes, chief of the VD control division of the Guatemalan Sanidad Publica.

According to a “Syphilis Summary Report” and experimental logs in the archives, syphilis studies included Commercial Sex Workers, prisoners, and patients in the mental hospital. In the series of syphilis studies, a total of 696 subjects of individual experiments (some representing the same patients involved in several experiments) were exposed to infection (by sexual contact or inoculation).

Gonorrhea studies included CSWs, prisoners, soldiers, and mental hospital patients. In the series of gonorrhea studies, a total of 772 subjects of individual experiments (some apparently representing the same patients involved in several experiments) were exposed to infection (by sexual contact or inoculation).

Chancroid studies included soldiers and mental hospital patients. A total of 142 subjects were exposed to infection by inoculation.

The study appears to have ended in 1948, although some follow-up laboratory testing and patient observation continued until the early 1950s. There is no indication that results of the STD inoculation experiments were ever published in the scientific literature or another forum.