CDC Director Slammed for Honoring “Sacrifice” of Black Men Injected with Syphilis During Tuskegee Experiments

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky was blasted on Twitter after she celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Tuskegee experiments by commemorating the “sacrifice” of the black men who were involuntarily subjected to human experimentation.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Tuskegee syphilis study,” Walensky tweeted Tuesday, adding, “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.”

The irony is the black men who took part in the experiments weren’t trying to “sacrifice” anything because they weren’t informed they’d be subjected to human experimentation where they’d be unknowingly injected with a sexually-transmitted disease.

Walensky was lit up on Twitter for making it seem like the human test subjects voluntarily agreed to the experimentation.

During the Tuskegee experiments, the US Public Health Service, from 1932 to 1972, conducted illegal testing of syphilis on human subjects.

“In that experiment,” wrote Farid Zakaria of The People’s Blog for the Constitution, “some 600 impoverished African-American men were observed in a study on the progression of untreated syphilis. Some of the men were intentionally infected with the disease and all of them were denied the cure. Regrettably, the report notes, no one was held accountable for this crime against humanity.”

Even after penicillin became the prescribed treatment of choice for syphilis in the 1940s, victims duped into the study were denied the cure.

More on the treatment of black men at the time via Planned Parenthood:

Researchers told them that they were being treated for “bad blood,” a term used to describe syphilis and a variety of other health issues, including anemia and fatigue (it’s unclear whether the participants understood what this term meant). The men, most of whom had never seen a doctor before, were persuaded to participate in the study with the promise of free medical exams, transportation, meals, and burial insurance. 

Some of the men with syphilis were given treatments available at the time — including arsenic and mercury — which ranged from mildly effective to toxic. The other infected men in the study received no treatment for syphilis at all. When syphilis isn’t treated, it can cause permanent organ damage, paralysis, blindness, severe mental illness, and even death. 

In 1947, penicillin became widely available as a treatment for syphilis, but it was never offered to the men at any point during the remaining 25 years of the study. Because of their race, the men in the study were viewed and treated as less-than human. They were used as research subjects, much like rats, whose sole purpose was to reveal the long-term effects of this potentially deadly disease. 

[…] It wasn’t until 1972 that [USPHS whistleblower Peter] Buxtun leaked documents to an Associated Press reporter, who made the Tuskegee Study public. In addition to revealing the corrupt details of the study itself, the news report also revealed the heinous fact that the infected Black men in the study didn’t know they were putting their lives at risk by participating in it, weren’t receiving treatment, or that they were spreading syphilis to their sexual partners. 

Indeed the illegal experiments aren’t something the CDC should be commemorating, but instead condemning as a prime example of how the US government used American citizens as guinea pigs without informed consent.

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