Shocking truth about how doctors experimented on Black Americans

Karen Hatter

This is what was written in The New York Times, about the author of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present:

" .... (Harriet Washington) has unearthed an enormous amount of shocking information and shaped it into a riveting, carefully documented book."

Harriet A. Washington, having been a fellow in ethics at the Harvard Medical School, a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University and a visiting Scholar at DePaul University School of Law, is the acclaimed author of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.

Since the publication of Medical Apartheid in 2006, Ms. Washington has received numerous awards, among those being:

2007 PEN Oakland Award, nonfiction

2007 BCALA Award, nonfiction

2007 Myers Award

2007 National Book Critics' Circle Award, Nonfiction

Her most recent acknowledgement has been the National Book Critic's Circle Award, awarded to her for the second year in a row, in March 2008.

The research included in Ms. Washington's book is an unbelievable journey into the bleak discovery that many of the practices and abuses dispensed by those within the medical community during enslavement and colonial times, whose practices caused many Americans of African descent suffering and death, although no longer in use, may have created a mind set or shared, almost inherited 'group think', for many, lending itself to newer, disturbing actions, documented in the 21st century.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was conducted for forty years in the United States and is more commonly known as the infamous Tuskegee Experiment, beginning in 1932 and officially ending in 1972. This study has come to be the most well known of medical abuses perpetrated upon the Black community but, it is still relatively unknown to many outside of the African American community.

This study began under the direction of the United States Public Health Service. The plan was to monitor Black men with the disease to see how the disease progressed differently in them than it did in White men. There was not a comparative study of White men commissioned to be used in the same manner.

Those who were in charge of the study lied to the Black men solicited for inclusion in the program, telling them that they were being treated for the disease as the study documented their declining health until death.

In the interim, the men were given aspirin, vitamins and iron tonic that they were assured were part of a curative treatment. It was always the intent to monitor the men until their deaths.

Despite being unknown to the majority of the African American community and the rest of the world at the time it was being conducted, the Tuskegee Experiment was written of frequently by the medical community, with only two individuals raising their voices in opposition to a program that allowed African American men with syphilis to remain untreated, passing the disease on to the women in their lives, often resulting with children being born with syphilis related illness.

Even after the discovery and use of penicillin for the treatment of syphilis during the 1940's and 1950's, the men were deprived treatment, allowing the disease to ravage their bodies until eventual death, so their remains could be dissected and examined, with those in charge believing this was a necessary action to determine if syphilis effected Black people differently than White people.

The unknowing participants in the Tuskegee Experiment names were on 'do no treat' lists, if they happened to venture outside of their community, with health facilities having been issued orders to turn them away.

In 1965, physicians met and decided that the experiment should continue because the ability to document those whose bodies were in the final stages of degeneration due to syphilis was considered an opportunity not to be missed.

Twenty five years after the whistle was blown on the study in 1972, in 1997, then U.S. President Bill Clinton issued an apology to the remaining 8 men of the original 399 participants that had been victims of the Tuskegee Experiment.

The apology stated in part:

"Medical people are supposed to help when we need care, but even once a cure was discovered, they were denied help, and they were lied to by their government. Our government is supposed to protect the rights of its citizens; their rights were trampled upon. Forty years, hundreds of men betrayed, along with their wives and children, along with the community in Macon County, Alabama, the City of Tuskegee, the fine university there, and the larger African American community.

The United States government did something that was wrong -- deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens.

To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know: No power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. 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."

In her book, in addition to revealing many previously unknown facts to the public regarding the Tuskegee Experiment, Ms. Washington discusses abuses occurring in recent times, including the Edmunton-Zagreb measles vaccine, given to Latino and Black children without parental consent in the 1980s in Los Angeles, California and the Norplant implant campaign in the 1990s, which targeted young, Black girls, as young as 13, a previously untested demographic, dispensed primarily in the Baltimore, Maryland public school system. Neither they nor their parents or guardians were told they were participating in an experiment.

Ms. Washington's remarkable book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, is a must read for all who desire to understand what constitutes unethical and improper treatment to assure behavior of the type described within its pages is not allowed to continue into the future to victimize anyone without many voices rising in unison to sound the call for protest and alarm.