|Photo Credit: National Archives|
The first of these studies, commonly referred to as the "Tuskegee Study", took place from the 1930's through the early 1970's and has been known about for some time. The Tuskegee Study took place when over 400 black men from Alabama who had been infected with a sexually transmitted disease, syphilis, were led to believe that they were receiving free treatment when they were, in fact, being left untreated and were being examined for the effects of syphilis. President Clinton public acknowledged this horror and publicly apologized in 1997.
Another study similar to Tuskegee has been recently discovered that took place in Guatemala during the 1940's. In the study that was conducted in Guatemala, jailed men were intentionally exposed to infected prostitutes and then received treatment afterward. This experiment was also conducted by the U.S government. Linda Villarosa penned an insightful column on these findings for TheRoot.com here.
Having learned about the Tuskegee Study in college, I was not surprised to learn of what happened in Guatemala. This is not to say that it does not disgust me, nonetheless. Even though there are many great things about the United States, our government has committed (and still commits) some pretty horrible things. We have bombed innocent people, we have enslaved and jailed our own citizens because of the color of their skin or their country of origin and have treated human beings as lab rats in the name of science.
In learning about these things, it should come as no surprise that some members of certain ethnic communities remain distrustful of the government when "help" is offered. Look at what Villarosa has to say:
"Numerous studies have shown that African Americans remain much less likely to get immunizations of any kind. For older African Americans, who more often than their peers of other races have heart disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses, a flu shot can mean the difference between life and death. African Americans of all ages avoid shots -- and the health care system in general -- out of mistrust. Last year, during the height of the H1N1 hysteria, a widely circulated Twitter message warned, "Don't take the swine flu vaccine. Remember the Tuskegee Experiment."To read more on the Tuskegee Study, click here and to read Professor Susan Reverby's article on Guatemala click here.
By and large, though, it's not a hazy memory of the Tuskegee episode that's fueling suspicion and distrust of the system. Most of us are too young to remember it; even Dr. Cutler is long gone. Rather, our broken and battered current health care system is what is driving African Americans away from treatment and care. It's been a decade since Congress first admitted officially what 37 million black people already know: that the U.S. medical care system doesn't treat us well. A damning 2002 report by the well-respected Institute of Medicine called "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care" laid it out point by ugly point for Congress and everyone else. And according to numerous studies, little has changed."
(h/t to the Black Voices blog for the link)