Published On: Mon, Apr 1st, 2013

Tuskegee University pays tribute to former President Bill Clinton’s apology for the atrocity known as the ‘Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment’

The school founded by Booker T. Washington will be commemorating the 16th anniversary of former President Bill Clinton’s apology for the U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study starting tomorrow, according to the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care. 

President Bill Clinton Presidential Apology - USPHS Syphilis Study at Tuskegee Image/Video Screen Shot

President Bill Clinton
Presidential Apology – USPHS Syphilis Study at Tuskegee
Image/Video Screen Shot

Annually, the university seeks to honor the victims of the study by addressing public health and ethics issues. The four-day event (April 2-5) will feature a keynote address Friday by former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders.

The U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study, called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”, began in 1932 and lasted till 1972 and took place in Macon County, Alabama.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study initially involved 600 black men – 399 with syphilis, 201 who did not have the disease.  The study was conducted without the benefit of patients’ informed consent.  Researchers told the men they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe several ailments, including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue.  In truth, they did not receive the proper treatment needed to cure their illness. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals, and burial insurance.  Although originally projected to last 6 months, the study actually went on for 40 years.

The men were never given adequate treatment for their disease.  Even when penicillin became the drug of choice for syphilis in 1947, researchers did not offer it to the subjects.

In July 1972, an Associated Press story about the Tuskegee Study caused a public outcry that led the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs to appoint an Ad Hoc Advisory Panel to review the study.  The panel had nine members from the fields of medicine, law, religion, labor, education, health administration, and public affairs.

The panel found that the men had agreed freely to be examined and treated.  However, there was no evidence that researchers had informed them of the study or its real purpose.  In fact, the men had been misled and had not been given all the facts required to provide informed consent.

Guatemalan syphilis experiment: in the name of public health?

The advisory panel concluded that the Tuskegee Study was “ethically unjustified”–the knowledge gained was sparse when compared with the risks the study posed for its subjects. In October 1972, the panel advised stopping the study at once. A month later, the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs announced the end of the Tuskegee Study.

On May 16, 1997, during a Recognition Ceremony for the Tuskegee Experiment survivors, President Bill Clinton offered a formal apology for the unethical, to say the least, experiment (see the speeches here).

Here is an excerpt of Mr. Clinton’s apology:

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.

The American people are sorry — for the loss, for the years of hurt. You did nothing wrong, but you were grievously wronged. I apologize and I am sorry that this apology has been so long in coming.

To Macon County, to Tuskegee, to the doctors who have been wrongly associated with the events there, you have our apology, as well. To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your federal government orchestrated a study so clearly racist. That can never be allowed to happen again. It is against everything our country stands for and what we must stand against is what it was.

What is syphilis?

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment-Guatemala- Dr. John C. Cutler (video)

President Obama orders bioethics commission to investigate syphilis study

Ethics commission: unethical studies could still happen

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About the Author

- Writer, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Global Dispatch. Robert has been covering news in the areas of health, world news and politics for a variety of online news sources. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the website, Outbreak News Today and hosts the podcast, Outbreak News Interviews on iTunes, Stitcher and Spotify Robert is politically Independent and a born again Christian Follow @bactiman63

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