Tuskegee scandal



The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is a tragic episode in the history of the U.S. government’s top health agency, the U.S. Public Health Service. The scandalous study is reminiscent of the gruesome practices of the notorious Joseph Mengele, the Nazi physician who conducted monstrous experiments on Jews imprisoned in concentration camps. The scandal demonstrates that U.S. government funded scientists aren’t incapable of performing similar atrocities.

Scientists working under the auspices of the agency conducted the study on 399 unsuspecting syphilitic African American men and 201 healthy men between the years 1932 and 1972. These scientists wanted to record the natural history of syphilis, so they lied to these poor, black sharecroppers about their diagnosis. They told the men they were being treated for "bad blood." Although penicillin was successfully used to cure syphilis starting in 1945, the men weren’t treated for their disease at all. The disease was passed unwittingly to the infected men’s wives and (congenitally) to their children. Untreated syphilis can result in tumors, heart disease, paralysis, blindness, insanity, and death.

The sick men were misled about the purpose of painful spinal taps, which they endured yearly. They were told that the "back shots" were needed for therapeutic purposes. In reality, scientists conducted spinal taps for the purpose of observing the progression of the disease from the spine into the brain. When the men asked why the shots were necessary, scientists lied and said the shots had a therapeutic purpose.

It is shocking that even Alabama medical societies, including a local chapter of the American Medical Association, supported the continuation of the study as late as 1969. The study was only brought to a halt when a whistleblower informed the press in 1972.


The National Cancer Institute (NCI), a component of the U.S. Public Health Service, has a history of lying about the abortion-breast cancer (ABC) research. The government’s cover up of the ABC research, however, dwarfs Tuskegee in terms of the number of victims whose lives have been put at risk. Tuskegee scientists impacted 399 poor black sharecroppers and their families. On the other hand, conservative estimates are that 10,000 cases of abortion related breast cancer would be diagnosed in 2003. This figure is expected to increase yearly by 1,000 additional cases. However, as the Roe v. Wade generation ages, the number of increased cases could be much worse than feared.

Women haven’t been told what top medical experts privately acknowledge to be true, but lack the political courage to say publicly – that abortion causes breast cancer. As a result, women can’t give their informed consent to this commonly performed surgical procedure. Similarly, Tuskegee’s syphilitic patients were unwittingly used as guinea pigs for 40 years. As a result, they were denied an opportunity to give informed consent to participate as study subjects.

Just as the men in the Tuskegee study weren’t told that their health was at risk, women who’ve had abortions haven’t been told they’re at greater risk for breast cancer. For this reason, they’re less likely to seek early detection or to reduce their risk for the disease.