We know all about evil Nazis who experimented on prisoners. We condemn the scientists in Marvel movies who carry out tests on prisoners of war. But we’d do well to remember that America has also used its own people as lab rats. Yet to this day, no one has been prosecuted for their role in dooming 399 men to syphilis.
That paragraph (from the article referenced below) seems to suggest that in America, as well as in Europe, although human experimentation did happen, and although justice does not appear always to have been served, that was then and this is now, though we do well to remember that sordid past.
But in the time of COVID, I would venture, William Faulkner will prove to have been a more prescient guide: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
See for yourself how many parallels might be drawn between then and now if only through the lens of this short historical summary:
40 Years of Human Experimentation in America: The Tuskegee Study
The goal was to “observe the natural history of untreated syphilis” in black populations, but the subjects were completely unaware and were instead told they were receiving treatment for bad blood when in fact, they received no treatment at all.
Starting in 1932, 600 African American men from Macon County, Alabama were enlisted to partake in a scientific experiment on syphilis. The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” was conducted by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) and involved blood tests, x-rays, spinal taps and autopsies of the subjects.
The goal was to “observe the natural history of untreated syphilis” in black populations. But the subjects were unaware of this and were simply told they were receiving treatment for bad blood. Actually, they received no treatment at all. Even after penicillin was discovered as a safe and reliable cure for syphilis, the majority of men did not receive it.
To really understand the heinous nature of the Tuskegee Experiment requires some societal context, a lot of history, and a realization of just how many times government agencies were given a chance to stop this human experimentation but didn’t. (My emphasis — N. P.)
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