The Secret Story of How a Revered Future Surgeon General Inspired the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

The lost story of how a future surgeon general and revered medical figure inspired the most notorious and perhaps also the most unethical medical study in American history — one in which African Americans were infected with syphilis and left untreated so scientists could study the disease’s progression— has now been found.It was while Gregory J. Dober was researching the history of using institutionalized children as subjects for human experimentation for our book, Against Their Will, that he came across the papers of Dr. Thomas Parran Jr. archived at the University of Pittsburgh. A significant stash of important documents totaling over 75 linear feet, they not only help us understand medical research during the last century and Parran’s zeal for conquering various social diseases, but also how U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) physicians could have annually examined hundreds of impoverished, syphilitic Alabama sharecroppers but never actually treat them.It’s important that this story be told—on this 85th anniversary of the start of the experiments, the 45th anniversary of their exposure by Jean Heller of the Associated Press, and 20th anniversary of President Clinton apologizing to the survivors—not only to correct the historical record, but also because it is far from the only example of scientists initiating and carrying out such troubling research on unknowing and defenseless citizens here.

Source: The Secret Story of How a Revered Future Surgeon General Inspired the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

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