Rochelle Walensky should hang her head in shame. Pontificating about the dreadful study of syphilis effects on African American men in terms of failed ethics when she oversees the most draconian and least ethical agency in the vast pantheon of corrupt federal agencies takes a massive amount of unselfawareness.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Tuskegee syphilis study. Tomorrow, I will be joined by colleagues & #PublicHealth leaders as we honor the 623 African American men, their suffering & sacrifice, and our commitment to ethical research and practice. https://t.co/cbR8Shy0Db— Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH (@CDCDirector) November 29, 2022
The Tuskegee Study
In order to track the disease’s full progression, researchers provided no effective care as the study’s African American participants experienced severe health problems including blindness, mental impairment—or death.
The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male (informally referred to as the Tuskegee Experiment or Tuskegee Syphilis Study) was a study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service (PHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on a group of nearly 400 African Americans with syphilis. The purpose of the study was to observe the effects of the disease when untreated, though by the end of the study medical advancements meant it was entirely treatable. The men were not informed of the nature of the experiment, and more than 100 died as a result. Wikipedia
CDC dress it up like this. No apology. No accountability. No humbling statement. Just a smug lecture:
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the uncovering of the Tuskegee syphilis study, when the public learned that the Public Health Service (precursor of the CDC) for 40 years intentionally withheld effective therapy against a life-threatening illness in 400 African American men.
In 2010, we learned that the same research group had deliberately infected hundreds of Guatemalans with syphilis and gonorrhea in the 1940s, with the goal of developing better methods for preventing these infections. Despite 15 journal articles detailing the results, no physician published a letter criticizing the Tuskegee study. Informed consent was never sought; instead, Public Health Service researchers deceived the men into believing they were receiving expert medical care.
The study is an especially powerful parable because readers can identify the key players in the narrative and recognize them as exemplars of people they encounter in daily life-these flesh-and-blood characters convey the principles of research ethics more vividly than a dry account in a textbook of bioethics.
The study spurred reforms leading to fundamental changes in the infrastructure of research ethics. The reason people fail to take steps to halt behavior that in retrospect everyone judges reprehensible is complex.
Lack of imagination, rationalization, and institutional constraints are formidable obstacles. The central lessons from the study are the need to pause and think, reflect, and examine one’s conscience; the courage to speak; and above all the willpower to act. History, although about the past, is our best defense against future errors and transgressions. Is that right, Rochelle?
She was battered on Social Media
They did not sacrifice. They WERE sacrificed. Words matter.— LawyerLady (@LawyerLady4) November 30, 2022
“Ethical research” ?— Jess (@JessClarke007) November 30, 2022
You need to resign
Hey lady, your ethics report card ain’t looking too good either! pic.twitter.com/5ndj0Vyvg4— Jurassic Carl 🦖🐭 (@carl_jurassic) November 30, 2022
"By 1943, penicillin was the treatment of choice for syphilis and becoming widely available, but the participants in the study were not offered treatment." -CDC— Meredith (@Opportunitweet) November 30, 2022