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Remembering Tuskegee

By on June 16, 2011

In 1932, black men in Macon County, Alabama had few options. Free health care from the federal government in the rural south was a blessing. Nearly 80 years later, we know how much of curse it was for the men of Tuskegee. There is a lesson for all of us, here is the back story.  

It was 1932 when the federal agency, U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) promised 400 black men from Macon County, Alabama south free treatment for “bad blood,” a euphemism for syphilis which was epidemic in the area during that time. Treatment for syphilis was never given to the men and was in fact withheld, for more than forty years. The black men became unwitting subjects for a government sanctioned medical investigation; no consent was ever sought nor provided. American physicians abused their power to explore the progression of untreated syphilis in the negro male.

 The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male ended in 1972. The Tuskegee Study symbolizes the medical misconduct and blatant disregard for human rights that takes place in the name of science. This happened to black men, in the United States, by a health agency of the federal government…for 40 years. The principal investigators were government physicians, who published reports on the study in the leading medical journals. The subjects of the study bear witness to the premise that the burden of medical experimentation has historically been borne by those least able to protect themselves. The government doctors who participated in the study failed to obtain informed consent from the subjects in a study of disease with a known risk to human life. Instead, the PHS offered the men incentives to participate: free physical examinations, free rides to and from the clinics, hot meals on examination days, free treatment for minor ailments, and a guarantee that a burial stipend would be paid to their survivors. This modest stipend of $50.00 represented the only form of burial insurance that many of the men had. By failing to obtain informed consent and offering incentives for participation, the PHS doctors were performing unethical and immoral experiments on human subjects. From the moment the experiment begun, the immorality of the experiment was blatantly apparent.

President Bill Clinton made the historical move to give a presidential apology from the White House, in fact calling the 40 year old crime “racist” and “a curse” urging all to heal and move forward.

In 2011, the evil remnants of the infamous Tuskegee study still lives on among longtime southerners African Americans.    The U.S. government established the Tuskegee Health Benefit Program (THPB) to provide lifetime medical and health benefits to the participants, their wives, children and grandchildren. Currently, 13 children and two grandchildren receive benefits from this congressionally-mandated program.

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