It’s been a dirty secret for decades. The secret? That our medical establishment in times past had used groups of poor people as guinea pigs, tested treatments on patients in mental hospitals and prisons and so forth. This history is one of the reasons there are so many safeguards put in place with any new study or test program.
Jonah Goldberg writes today about an oft mentioned program from our history that the liberals and blacks bring up pretty much every time the Wright “US infected blacks with AIDS” meme’ is thrown around:
The infamous Tuskegee experiment is the Medusa’s head of black left-wing paranoia. Whenever someone laments the fact that anywhere from 10 percent to 33 percent of African Americans believe the U.S. government invented AIDS to kill blacks, someone will say, “That’s not so crazy when you consider what happened at Tuskegee.”
But it is crazy. And it’s dishonest.
Wright says the U.S. government “purposely infected African-American men with syphilis.” This is a lie, and no knowledgeable historian says otherwise. And yet, this untruth pops up routinely. In March, CNN commentator Roland Martin defended Wright, saying, “That actually did, indeed, happen.” On Fox News, the allegation has gone unchallenged on Hannity & Colmes and The O’Reilly Factor. Obery Hendricks, a prominent author and visiting scholar at Princeton University, told O’Reilly “I do know that the government injected syphilis into black men at the Tuskegee Institute. Now we know that the government is capable of doing those things.”
To which O’Reilly responded: “All right. All governments have done bad things in every country.”
True enough. And what the U.S. did at Tuskegee was indeed bad, very bad. But it didn’t do what these people say it did.
So what did happen? In 1932, public health researchers set out to study syphilis, particularly among African Americans, who had higher infection rates than whites. They recruited 399 black men who already had syphilis. The doctors infected no one. In fact, the patients were selected in the first place because they were tertiary-stage syphilitics who were no longer contagious.
The researchers studied the progress of the disease, without treating it, for 40 years.
Prior to the availability of penicillin in the 1940s and 1950s, the researchers couldn’t have treated the men even if they wanted to. Even after standardized penicillin treatments were available, it wasn’t clear that the patients could have been helped. Some of the doctors believed that treating the decades-long infections would kill the men.
Among scholars who’ve studied Tuskegee, there’s a lot of debate about how much — if any — racism was involved in the experiment. But no one disputes that Tuskegee had nothing whatsoever to do with genocide or even a desire to spread the disease among the black population.
What was bad about the Tuskegee experiment was a callous disregard for the humanity and integrity of the patients. They were told they were getting “treatments” when they were merely being studied. They were lied to, treated as objects rather than citizens. This is even more offensive today, now that we have modern legal and ethical rules about informed consent — rules that did not exist when the study was launched. But it was still wrong.
Sure enough, the fact that they were lied to and never treated for their disease is bad. But they were not infected with it by the government. There were many abuses by our medical establishment over the course of our history but this does not somehow validate the ludicrous conspiracy theory thrown about by Rev. Wright.
One of the better questions by Jonah in his article is this one:
But why blacks remain the most reliable voters for the party of ever-expanding government power is something of a mystery. Indeed, it’s worth noting that the Tuskegee study, launched during the pre-dawn of the New Deal-era, was symptomatic of arrogant liberal government. The study “emerged out of a liberal progressive public health movement concerned about the health and well-being of the African-American population,” writes University of Chicago professor Richard Schweder. He adds: “The study was done with the full knowledge, endorsement and participation of African-American medical professionals, hospitals and research institutes.”
Liberals like to invoke Tuskegee as if it’s solely an indictment of what other people did, proof that we need more progressive government. But Tuskegee was in fact the poisoned fruit of progressive government.
And still a majority of the black population wants MORE government in their lives.