With the over-bombardment of earth-shattering news that detonates over each generation, it’s easy to forget what happened on July 25, 1972, even if you were there. This was the day when investigative reporter Jan Heller broke the news of a secret government experiment that had the nation spinning like a wobbling top.
It was Peter Buxton with the U.S. Public Health Service who sang like a canary by leaking some top secret information in the form of actual documents to the then 29-year-old Heller. As a young woman in the early 1970s, Heller seized the opportunity to run with the story.
The documents revealed how the federal government had chosen a rural area of Alabama to purposely allow hundreds of Black men to live with the Syphilis they’d picked up by not offering any medical treatment over the course of four decades to study the sexually transmitted infection’s long-term results.
Even when penicillin was discovered as the end-all cure, which quickly became widely publicized, the men were denied access to it. The men, their families, and people from around the nation let their rage be known and the program entitled “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” was terminated four months later.
The poor guys and their dripping faucets were awarded $10 million for their trouble, and Congress passed a few new laws promising to never do something like that again. It took twenty years for the victims to hear a kinda-sorta apology when President Bill Clinton called the study “shameful.”
The cause and effect principle is being blamed for the lingering impact the study has had on the Black male U.S. population. Time doesn’t heal all. These days, medical research is above board and the participants are willing patients, many of whom have had little success with present medications.
But stigmas born from reality don’t die quickly. Because they’re more justifiable, only a very small percentage of African Americans nationwide will raise their hand to jump in on a medical research project, still today, 50 years later.
In recognition of the secret syphilis scenario hitting the big five-o, here’s how the whole thing went down, and it isn’t for the weak.
The initial report said that human guinea pigs were being allowed to die from syphilis so their autopsies could be studied to determine syphilis’s long-term effects on the human body.
According to Doctors, the experimental men who are still with us are going to have to continue living with the burn. The time has long since passed for any known treatment to be effective.
The Public Health Service officials who put their seals of approval on the project are all dead or close to being. Current officials said they have “serious doubts” concerning the morality of the project. Serious doubts???
The experiment started with 600 mostly uneducated and poor Black men in 1932. Tuskegee was chosen because it boasted the highest syphilis rate in the country. All factors combined, the pickings were plentiful and easy.
Two-thirds of the men tested positive, and of those, half were given reliable treatment, while the other half got nothing. Here’s where the current-day reluctance to volunteer comes into play.
All of the men were offered free transportation to the hospitals and back, free hot lunches which most of them never got, free medicine for whatever else ailed them, and a free burial if syphilis got them before they could be cured.
Granted, the experiment began in the 1930s when most white Alabamans were peeking through pillowcases, but it was allowed to continue until the 1970s when fewer Alabamans were tugging those things over their heads.
It still gives cause to wonder. With it being 2022 and with the racial gap not nearly as gaping as it once was, is the government still experimenting on people, and if so, are they practicing equality for all? Is this why certain people recover faster than some who don’t recover at all from the very same symptoms?
Probably not, but you never know. Stranger things have happened, and all things considered, it’s still the same government.