Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Apology Not Accepted: Directors of syphilis study should face penalty

Yo, we all know that this is the 10th anniversary of the Apology For the Study Done in Tuskegee as acknowledged by then President Clinton. Here is something I wrote back then that was featured as an op-ed in a News paper called Creative Loafing, May 31, 1997 Vol. 26, No. 2

President Clinton has openly apologized for the federal government’s involvement in the U.S. Public Health Syphilis study, the so-called Tuskegee Experiment – which was not designed, developed or put in place by the residents of Tuskegee or the encompassing Macon County, Ala. The syphilis study, which started in 1932, continued after penicillin was observed to be an effective treatment for the disease. During the study, penicillin was withheld and subjects were treated with mercury and arsenic.

I have strong concerns regarding the meaning and sincerity of the president’s apology. The study began more than 60 years ago and ended about 25 years ago. Since Clinton was not born when the study began, nor was he responsible for its implementation, it’s hard for me to accept his gesture as being more than political grandstanding.

If he is sincere about this apology, then it would be reasonable for him to prosecute all directors and leaders of the fullest extent of the law. I say this based on historical precedents that were implemented with respect to standards of research involving human subjects. The most well known of such standards came about as a consequence of the Nuremberg tribunal after World War II. Human “guinea pigs” were experimented upon with destructive materials in the same manner that the U.S. Public Health Services, Communicable Disease Center, now the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, experimented on African descendents in Macon County.

At the German military hospital In Neuengamme, experiments were carried out on individuals diagnosed with tuberculosis. Remedies used treatment were far more brutal than the biological progression of the disease itself. During autopsies, parts of the body were sent back to selected laboratories in Germany for study. This same practice was replicated in the syphilis study- the only differences being that parts were sent to Atlanta.

What happened in Macon County is no different from what occurred in Buchewnwald, the main center of German experimentation for spotted fever (carried out by the SS Hygiene Institute in Berlin). The spinal taps that were used on the men no different from the spinal tap procedure employed by Nazi scientist in Ravensbruck. Prosecution of former German scientist of human subject research violations is ongoing today. The question is, why are we willing to absolve directors of the syphilis study when we were not willing to absolve those German war criminals?

The people running the syphilis study allowed men infected with syphilis to return to their homes, knowing that there was a chance for the disease. More horrifying was the denial of medical treatment. Denying approximately 400 African descendants living in Macon County, Ala, treatment when it was available is unthinkable.

Pundits estimate that only 28 men died from the study. However, since subjects were allowed to return to their homes, to their wives, lovers and girlfriends, the possibility exists that others may have died from complications from contracting the virus. I cannot buy the suggestion that these researchers were well intended. If their intentions were just and honorable, then why was there a need to learn more about the disease for which ample data regarding the etiological outcome was documented? Not to mention the length of time it took for the federal government to officially acknowledge that the study even existed. What benefit will the president’s apology have on bringing closure to the federal government’s role in providing safe health care for individuals of African descent.?

No, Mr. President, we don’t want to accept your apology, if you do not intend to apply the same standard of justice that has been applicable to scientist condemned under the Nuremberg tribunal. Bringing the guilty to justice will go a lot farther than any empty repentance. This is the only respectful was for the government to absolve itself from its involvement in unethical and fatal research with human subjects.

The only settlement awarded to victims was $37, 500 for each living syphilitic and $15, 000 for living heirs. In total, $10 million was provided for $6,000 victims. This means that recipients about $1,666 apiece-a figure insignificant when compared to the Ronald Goldman settlement. If those responsible for the syphilis study are not tried and convicted, it will only mean that Africans in America are of no value in the eyes of the federal government, when compared to a Ron Goldman or a victim of Auschwitz.

Creative Loafing May 31, 1997 Vol. 26, No. 2


Jihan said...

"If their intentions were just and honorable, then why was there a need to learn more about the disease for which ample data regarding the etiological outcome was documented? Not to mention the length of time it took for the federal government to officially acknowledge that the study even existed."-

Or the fact that the study relied solely on subjects of African descent as opposed to a cross section of society.

jd anderson said...

The government's intentions are not so valuable it was the outcry of our people which got anything done about the matter at all. In our Government in the great USA, the value of an African American is far less than that of any of our non colored citizens.
Just look at Hurricane Katrina Victims.

But I'm not sure what good could come out of prosecuting any of the directors now these men should be in their seventies and late eighties.

Anonymous said...

It isn't surprising to me at all. There is no accountabilty nor sanctions when the crime is spearheaded by the US government. Lies and deceit are commonplace, and if no scapegoat is readily available, then I believe the catch-phrase has been "let's move forward" or "I don't recall" or other BS that been condoned by "leadershit" and that's not a typo.

Shai said...

The experiment was sick. The thing about it, there experiments going on now and that is sad.

JustMeWriting said...

OH MY GOODNESS... You know what, I'm about sick and tired of the whole "I'M SORRY" epidemic that's taken root in the minds of these European wrongdoers...I'm Sorry for slavery, I'm sorry for injustice, I'm sorry for aids, I'm sorry for crack, I'm sorry for...PLEASE!!!! Spare me, seriously, If I hear one more empty apology for ANYTHING I'm going to flip. Couple weeks ago the Queen of England was sorry...where's my 40 acres!!! great post dude...thanks for keeping me up on things.

Kieya said...

"Pundits estimate that only 28 men died from the study." - There is no statute of limitation for murder which is exactly what they should be charged with. And I'm pretty sure reckless endangerment, manslaughter, attempted manslaughter plus their license (if they still have them) should be revoked.

Isn't it funny how Nuremberg went down but the US actually brought 100 or so Nazi drs here for Operation Paperclip where they continued their experiments?

Apologies mean nothing, they're worth spit in a bucket.

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