[back] The CDC Tuskegee 'experiment'

The CDC Tuskegee experiment

by Dr Alan Cantwell

In 1932 a medical experiment, conducted by the US Public Health Service, was undertaken on four hundred poor, illiterate Black sharecroppers in Tuskegee, Alabama. All the men had syphilis. The doctors who carried out the experiment lied to the men and their families, telling them only that they were suffering from "bad blood." Under the watchful eye of the government and the medical establishment, the Tuskegee experiment lasted 40 years.

The racist experiment was as simple as it was diabolic. The physicians wanted to know what would happen to the health of these men if treatment for syphilis was withheld. The doctors assured the men they would look after their "bad blood" and provide for all their health care, free of charge.

When a penicillin cure for syphilis became available in the 1940s, the men were not treated because treatment would ruin the medical experiment. Throughout their lives the men never knew they had a serious, life-threatening venereal disease. Some of the men sexually transmitted syphilis to their wives and lovers. Some of the babies born of these infected women were syphilitic. When each man died, the experimenters offered money for funeral and burial expenses with the proviso that the family permit an autopsy at the special hospital involved in the study.

During the Black Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, intense political pressure was put on the government to stop this unethical, racist experiment. In 1972 the syphilis study was finally terminated. The definitive account of the Tuskegee syphilis study appears in Bad Blood by James H. Jones. Martin P. Levine has also reported on this shocking study with genocidal overtones ("Bad Blood," New York Native, February 16, 1987). Levine emphasizes that the Tuskegee experiment was supervised by the CDC, the same government agency that now oversees the AIDS epidemic. (Queer Blood by Dr Cantwell).