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“I’ve killed eight of my patients”: Dr. Cornelius Rhoads in Puerto Rico

“I’ve killed eight of my patients”: Dr. Cornelius Rhoads in Puerto Rico

I wanted to talk about one of the people you
focus on in your book as a way to talk about colonialism: Cornelius Rhoads, the doctor,
the cancer researcher, who went to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to study anemia in the 1930s. Tell us what he did there and how he ascended
from there. That’s right. So, Cornelius Rhoads was working for the Rockefeller
Institute, and he went to San Juan in the 1930s to research anemia. A lot of Puerto Ricans were suffering from
anemia as a result of hookworm. And he took his—you know, he had been trained
in Harvard. But suddenly, when he got to San Juan, he
became a different kind of doctor. He took his location, being in Puerto Rico,
as sort of license to do whatever he wanted, however he wanted it. So, this is what we have accounts of. First of all, he refused to treat some of
his patients, just to see what would happen. He tried to induce disease in others, again,
to see what would happen, by restricting their diets. He referred to his patients, to his colleagues,
as experimental animals. And then he wrote a letter. He sat down, and he wrote a letter, in which
he said, to a colleague in Boston—he said, you know, “Puerto Rico is beautiful. The weather is incredible. I love the island. However, the problem is with the Puerto Ricans. They’re awful. They steal. They’re filthy. And the thing to do, really, is to totally
exterminate the population.” And then he said, “And I’ve started that. I’ve killed eight of my patients, and I’ve
sought to transplant cancer into 13 more. Hope you’re doing well in Boston. Yours sincerely,” and just signed off. We know that, because he then left the letter
out. It was discovered. It was discovered by the Puerto Rican staff
of the hospital where he was working. And it became a national scandal, understandably. Puerto Ricans had heard the scorn of mainlanders. They had heard talk of the problem of Puerto
Rican overpopulation and how mainlanders disapproved of it. But here they saw what they interpreted to
be the homicidal—racist, homicidal intent from a doctor who had actually killed eight
people. Cornelius Rhoads left. He just fled the island, hoping, presumably,
that what happens in San Juan stays in San Juan. The government did an investigation. It uncovered another letter, which the governor
deemed worse than the first. But the governor, who was appointed governor—he
was a mainlander who had been appointed and not elected—suppressed that letter—we
don’t have it, no researcher has ever seen it or found it—and concluded, after having
suppressed evidence, that Cornelius Rhoads probably didn’t kill eight of his patients. He was probably just joking or something like
that. And Cornelius Rhoads never faced a hearing. Not only that, he didn’t even get fired. So he returned to New York. He continued his job. He was quickly—he quickly became the vice
president of the New York Academy of Medicine. And then, during World War II, he became a
colonel in the Army and became the chief medical officer in the Chemical Warfare Service. So, that’s not only a promotion. Just think about what that allows him to do,
because the Chemical Warfare Service is preparing the United States to enter a gas war, if it
comes to that. So, in order to do that, it tests out all
kinds of poison gas, first on animals—goats are preferred—but ultimately on human subjects,
on uniformed men, who are, without a lot of informed consent, either having mustard agents
applied to their skin to see how their skin blisters, are put in gas chambers with gas
masks to see how long they can stay in there—they’re locked in there until they falter—or, in
a lot of cases, there’s an island that the United States uses off of Panama, San José
Island. And men are put in the field, and they’re
asked to sort of stage mock battles. But while they do that, they’re gassed from
overhead. And then, you know, this is to see how they’re
affected. And interestingly, Professor Immerwahr, there
were many Puerto Ricans who served in World War II who ended up stationed in Panama and
being subjected to some of the mustard gas experiments that were conducted at that time. I know, because one of my uncles, who served
in the 65th Infantry, was in Panama and was subjected to those experiments. So, the interesting thing, though, is that
Cornelius Rhoads remained a major figure—didn’t he?—in the medical world, and way up into
only recently. Only in recent years has there been an attempt
to sort of revise or reform the image of him in the medical community. That’s exactly right. So, after overseeing these medical experiments
with gas, in which 60,000 uniformed men, a lot of them Puerto Rican, were subjected,
without informed consent, to chemical weapons. And many of them suffered debilitating effects
as a result of this—emphysema, eye damage, genital scarring, psychological damage. Some of these men were really harmed by this. Nevertheless, that also didn’t impede him. And, in fact, some of that work with chemical
agents alerted him, as well as some other doctors, to the possibility that mustard agents
could be used to treat cancer. Cornelius Rhoads took some of the surplus
stock of U.S. chemical weapons after the war and became the first director of the Sloan
Kettering Institute and then used his position to sort of launch the, you know, turn to chemotherapy
and tried chemical after chemical after chemical out on fighting cancer. The incredible thing is that, within the U.S.
medical community, that’s what he was remembered for. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine. There was an award given by the American Association
of Cancer Research after Cornelius Rhoads, and that award was given for more than 20
years, before a Puerto Rican cancer researcher pointed out to the AACR, “You know the guy,
after whom this award is named, the hero, Cornelius Rhoads? You know what he did in Puerto Rico?” And it had been 23 years. The informational segregation had been so
extraordinary that it had been 23 years before the mainland medical community realized that
the guy that they had been enthusiastically celebrating had at least said in a letter
that he had killed eight of his patients. And the statue of Cornelius Rhoads at 103rd
and 5th Avenue was removed. Yeah. So, the medical community has, you know, now
gotten the memo. And there’s been–the award has been changed,
and now there’s an understanding of his dual legacy. But what’s extraordinary to me is just how
long he got away with it, just how long he was able—and how many Puerto Ricans he was
able to experiment on, in some of the worst ways imaginable, without facing the consequences
of that.

Reader Comments

  1. Doctors are still killing people by wrong diagnosis and over medicating and performing unnecessary surgeries multiple times. Experimentation has a new name now, it's called research. Dr. Kovorkian got locked up, but this guy got promoted! Fascinating!

  2. Wow. Daniel is doing good work out here. Expose the way in which America celebrates and rewards racists.

  3. Well let me see if I got this right, The Spaniards along with Columbus landed on the Caribbean Islands of Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and cube and enslaved the Tainos our Ancestors and Raped, Killed and Tortured them and History books say they are Extinct! No, they were Diluted to the MAX and through Assimilation are now called Puerto Ricans , Cubans and Dominicans. That's one Genocide that occurred on the Island let's move on… The U.S. defeated Spain and won over Puerto Rico and Congress was going to make a State but were uncertain of the inhabitants living on that Island ( Brown or dark People or known as alien Races ) they were not Anglo Saxon or White ( RACIST BASTARDS) so it became a U.S. Territory known also known as the Insular Act. So the Racist Pricks decided to make the Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens to fight their Wars but made them 2nd class citizens they can't vote for their commander in chief and any Federal Aid they get was only going to be a third where  other States got at least Half. Now,  this JERK OFF Dr. Rhoads who probably killed way more then what is being said here because at this point I don't believe anything the U.S. has to say regarding this matter they covered up so much through out the Years so, the Puerto Ricans were GUINEA PIGS and so were the woman!! Again, RACIST MOTHERFOCKERS !!!!!!  So what else is New I would like to know??

  4. In case there are still people out there that haven't figured it out, the USA is run by racist ghouls… and I'm not talking about the politicians… they are but minor demons compared to folks like the Kochs.

  5. Hitler created our modern monster. Without WWII there would never have been alphabet agencies. The OSS was created during the war, which later became the CIA. All else followed.

    The MI Complex is the problem, not the citizens of the United States who haven't had control of their government since that war.

  6. This just goes to show what white, male privilege used to do for those people. Now, those same white men feel like something is being taken away from them that they can't continue to subjugate people who are different from them. I don't think this is anywhere near close to the majority of white men, it's just that the ones who object to equal opportunity put up a bigger stink that those white men who see the humanity in other people.

  7. Why am I not surprised. I don't want to believe Ebola was created in the lab but Revelations like this makes me wonder as a person of color

  8. After that they gave them birth control ! He knew what most didn't. They were early castro exciles , so do your homework dude..the ones that fled destroyed new york, and black american pride in castros name ..I had to live near them , did you ? No ! I kinda knew it !

  9. There is no proof the doctor wrote that letter. I mean really, does it sound logical or realistic to leave a letter out in the open confessing of murder?
    And that was 80+ years ago, when are people going to quit living in the past? History is history, the chronicling of what happened. When you put today's morality onto the past, you're incapable of learning history. Bad stuff happened in the past, good stuff happened in the past. What does it say about people who focus on the bad stuff, and try to make it pertainate to the present?
    It's not happening now, get over it. And whoever made up the title should look up the definition of "empire".
    Judging people of the past by today's standards, and focusing only on bad things from the past does no one any good.
    Not forgetting is not the same as kicking a dead dog, let the dead be dead for christ sake.

  10. These "found letters" ALLEGEDLY written by Cornelius Rhoads seem very dubious and possibly fake . Seems like gossip and hearsay about alleged malpractice by this speaker Immerwahr, i.e . where is legitimate documentation? Has this Immerwahr written a book that Goodman is shilling? Yes….it's Amy Walter Winchell Goodman shilling another book on her gossip-hearsay t.v. show. Again Goodman shows she is a shameless self serving media hack. Donate ! Contribute to Goodman's millionaire lifestyle. Lol.

  11. The biggest criminals don't have criminal records the police and the military enforce the government lies.

  12. All these years later and the USA still continues to kill Puerto Ricans…at least you're consistent America.

  13. Operation Paperclip brought 1500 Nazis scientists under protection of the USA government. Since then, we have been used as guinea pigs, specially military veterans.

  14. I am saddened and outraged. True journalism must be a priority. We must continue to fund independent media if we want to be a truly informed society.

  15. D.W. Griffith created propaganda for the KKK and he had an award in his name in his name until 1999. Makes me wanna know more about that Emmy guy.

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