The Tuskegee Experiment

.. periment begun, the immorality of the experiment was blatantly apparent. Instead of obtaining consent from the participants, 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 gurantee 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 men had (153). When the subjects were administered painful lumbar punctures in 1933 ( commonly known as a spinal tap where a needle is driven into ones vertebrate and fluid is suctioned from the spinal cord, a procedure that exposed the patients paralysis or death) their cooperation was obtained under false pretenses. Dr. Vonderlehr, one of the leading reseachers in the study, wrote letters to each patient inviting him to a special experiment, adding that remember this is your last chance for special free treatment (Jones 127).

The physicians continued to conceal the truth that this procedure was diagnostic rather than therapeutic by telling the patients that they were receiving spinal shots (Jones 127). To understand why so many black men welcomed the opportunity of receiving what appeared to be free health care, though they received bad treatment, one must understand the social and economic conditions of rural Macon County, Alabama at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Census of 1930 revealed that blacks made up 82 percent of Macons twent-seven thousand residents. Blacks outnumbered whites four to one and neraly half of the resisdents lived below poverty level. It was all to common to visit houses without indoor plumbing and no other means of water supply save a swallow well that occupied the same territory as that of sewage (Jones 61). The fifth chapter of Joness Bad Blood: The Tuskegge Syphillis Experiment entitled The Dr. Aint Taking Sticks describes the destitute environment in which Blacks lived: ..housing conditions were terrible.

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The typical dwelling was a tumble-down shack with a dirt floor, screens, little furinature, a few rags for bedding, and a privy only when underbrush was not nearby. Drinking water came from an uncovered, shallow well, often totally unprotected from direct surface drainage. The people who lived in his rural slum ate a pellagrous diet [of]..salt pork hominy grits, cornbread, and molasses formed the standared fare of the majority Macon Countys black residents, while red meat, fresh vegitables and fruit, or milk seldom appeared on their tables. As a result, chronic malnutrition and a host of diet-related illnesses were serious health problems (Jones 62). Medical facilities were present, however, the treatment that each gave was limited. The United States Veterans hospital located on the campus of Tuskegge Institute did not have an outpatient clinic and did very little for the surrounding community.

The intellectual aloofness found at the Veterns Hospital was similar at the John A. Andrews Hospital also located in the vicinity of Tuskeggee Insistute. The John A. Andrews Hospital did have an outpatient clinic but the impact that the hospital had on the community was not substantial (Jones 64). It was the norm for many Blacks to go to from cradle to the grave without having experiencing any type of medical care (Jones 65). Since doctors were only consulted in dire emergencies, many blacks suffered with syphilis and its complications.

So in 1930 when the Surgeon General announced that a syphilis control program was being created in Macon County blacks werein some cases excited about seeing a doctor and in other cases instructed by their employer to see a doctor without any explanation. Initially, the program was indeed a type of syphilis control program. Later that year, however, it was recommended that the syphilis control program be terminated and plans for a comprehensive health and welfare program be instituted. In 1932, the United States Public Health Service officers returned to Tuskegee and converted the treatment program into a nontherapeutic human experiment (Jones 90). The goal of the progam now was to aquire as many autopsies as possible that will support the argument that people of African descent reacted differently to venereal diseases such as syphilis and that this disease in character was a black disease. Once the Tuskegee expiriment began it thrived from its own momentum.

The intellectuals who were aware of the study did not reject to it. The black professionals affiliated with Tyskegee institute at the time the experiment was taking place did not object either. The question remains why did Black healtth professionals not challenge the study? The information concerning the details of the experimnet was not at all private; the disclosure of information concerning Tuskegee seemed very calculated. In fact they appeared in many of the major health and medical journals of the time period,places were the average person may not ordinarily look. However, Black health professionls like Dr. Paul B.

Cornely of Howaed University,a black public health leader since the 1930s knew about Tuskegee but did not object. He understood the nature of the study and followed it closely, never questioning it. He explained in retrospect: I was there and I didnt say a word. I saw it as an academician. It shows you how we looked at human beings, especially blacks who were expendable..

I have guilt feeling about it, as I veiw it now..because I considered myself to be an activist. I used to get hot and bothered about injustices and inequality, yet right under my nose something is happening and Im blind (Smith 103). Many Black professionals hide behind the suppositions that what was occuring at Tuskegee Institute would draw much needed attention to the desolate social, economic, and medical environments of the Black community. There is no doubt that the history of racial subjugation, class-consciousness, and professional status contributed to the response or lack thereof from black professionals and intellectuals. Historian Tom W. Shick argued that black medical professionals did not or could not challenge the experiment because they were not seen as equals in the medical profession, i.e.

blacks did coexist with whites (Journal 103). Jones states that class-consciousness permits black professionals to deny that the experimnet was racist. There existed a dilemma for the black professionals involved: on the one hand scientific energy and money were to be devoted to the study of diseased blacks, long ignored by science and medicine; but, on the other hand, the whole notion of framing the experiment as a study of the the diseased instead of disease smacked racism. (Jones 167). In Bad Blood, Jones presents the questions of why these 600 black men participated in the study and why did Black professionals allowed this experiment to continue without any objections.

it is quite evident that ultimately, the reasons why the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male begun and continued was because of raism. Racism created the economic and social impecunious conditions of the 1930s that would allow these men to accept their offer. racism created the conditions that would allow black people to turn the other cheek as their brothers were being victimized, exploited and murdered. Racism in this case and many other instances of historical racial oppression offered no alternatives. Bibliography Bibliography Jones, James.

Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. New York: Free Press, 1993. Smith Susan L. Neither Victim nor Villain. Journal of Womens History Vol.

8 No. 1 Sociology Essays.

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