Government Lies: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

Participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

From Martin’s upcoming book, Government Lies. The title is both a statement of fact (“lies” as a verb), and introduces a long list of lies told by the American government (“lies” as a noun). The Tuskegee “Experiment” is only one such example.

Government Lies: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
President Bill Clinton (American President 1993-2001) apologizes for the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment on May 16, 1997:

The United States government did something that was wrong — deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens.

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 incident is named after Tuskegee University, a private, historically Black land-grant university in Alabama. The school is due east of Columbus, Georgia, near U.S. Interstate Highway 85, halfway between Montgomery and the Georgia border. The school was founded on July 4, 1881. Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) was the first principal of the newly formed school. Donors to the school included Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and George Eastman (of Eastman Kodak Company).

The “study” was conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) located in Atlanta, Georgia, and the United States Public Health Service, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The study included poor black sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama, who were promised free health care by the United States government. Of the first 600 participants, 399 had latent syphilis and 201, the control group, did not. The infected men were never told during the experiment that they had syphilis. Patients were told they would receive treatment for “bad blood,” but were given no treatment (they did get burial insurance). The infected men were not treated with penicillin, which was a known, effective treatment by 1947, nor were they informed of this option. At least 128 participants in the study were allowed by their U.S. government doctors to die from the disease or complications, so the effects could be observed.

A whistleblower leaked the fact of the experiment to the press and the program was terminated on November 16, 1972. On May 16, 1997, 25 years later, President Bill Clinton apologized on behalf of the United States Government.

Should any reader assume that the bureaucrats in these government agencies in 2021 are any different from those who were there for the 40 years between 1932 and 1972, now 50 years later, think again. Human nature does not change. Bureaucracies and their internal incentives do not change.

These pernicious incentives in government “care” – and the bureaucracies that routinely cover them up – are a cause for grave concern.

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