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Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.
First of all, it’s important to understand what syphilis is. Syphilis is a chronic bacterial disease caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. It is contracted through sexual intercourse, but the developing fetus can also contract it from its mother.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama. It was originally supposed to be conducted over a period of six months, but went on for 40 years instead. This was done by the Public Health Service of the US government to track the progression of untreated syphilis in impoverished, rural African-American men who were manipulated and told that they were getting free health care from their government.
The study began with 600 African-American individuals: 399 had syphilis before the study began, and 201 did not have the disease. The men were promised free meals, free medical care, and free burials for participating in the study. They were not told that they had syphilis. They were only told that they were being treated for “bad blood,” which could have described a multitude of illnesses.
The experiment went as the conductors had wanted, until in 1947, penicillin was accepted as the treatment for syphilis. The doctors conducting the experiement were aware that the men in the study could have received this treatment, thus curing them of syphilis. The doctors did not make their subjects aware that treatment had become available, and instead continued the study without any changes. The group conducting the experiment actually went to extremes to prevent their subjects from receiving treatment, even when it had become available to others living in the area.
The study continued until 1972, when the press eventually found out what had been happening the last 40 years, and the truth was leaked to the nation.
The victims of the study were 28 men who had died from the untreated disease, 40 wives who had contracted it from their partners, and about 20 children born to the fathers and mothers with the disease. In addition, 100 people died from related diseases.
25 years later, President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology to the few survivors left.
“What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry … To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist.”
This study was cruel, it was inhumane, it was unethical, and it was racist. Would this have gone on for so long if the subjects had been white men instead of black? No. Would the public have been more outraged if this wasn’t dealing with people of color? Yes. Issuing an “apology” does not make up for the lives lost. It does not make up for the racism, and it does not make up for 40 years of suffering.
President Bill Clinton, right, and Vice President Al Gore, center, reach out to Herman Shaw, 94, a Tuskegee syphilis study victim, during a news conference in Washington on May 16, 1997. [Doug Mills/AP file]
Hispanics are the new negro
- Stephen Colbert: You have said that Hispanics are the new negro.
- Scott Douglas: Yes, based on treatment, because it's just like the Jim Crow laws. Where arbitrary laws, capricious in their application gives anybody the power over you, to abuse you, to hurt you, to harm you.