Racism, Research, and the Breaking of the Hippocratic Oath
A statement in an unsigned article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, gives the prejudicial idea: “‘Virtue in the Negro race is like angels’ visits—few and far between”’ (Brandt 21). Nearly seventy years after Lincoln abolished slavery in the United States, racism and prejudice still flowed through the veins of many Americans and their views corrupted medical research studies with bribery, prejudice, and flagrant disregard for ethics, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis case in 1932. This blatant disrespect for African-American life left only seventy-four men alive of the three hundred and ninety-nine men who participated in the study. These men were chosen as research subjects solely on the color of their skin and that they were a “notoriously syphilis soaked race” (Skloot 50).
Southern states known for their extreme prejudice against blacks in the early twentieth century, upheld the unethical Jim Crow laws, which legalized segregation throughout communities that were once part of the Confederacy. At the time, Social Darwinism became a popular theory among citizens and scholars. The theory contained extremely racist beliefs about the indisputable demise of the black population and was widely supported by the medical community. Doctors and physicians were referred to as noble, respected individuals, but these men shared the same discriminatory beliefs as the people in their society.
In 1932, Syphilis, a highly infectious sexually transmitted disease, was widely prevalent in black and white communities in the South. Since Macon County had the highest rate of the infection, Dr. Taliaferro Clark decided that the study of “untreated syphilis in the male Negro” would take place there (Gray 42). These researchers wanted to observe the natural course of the disease. They possessed no intention of ever helping the poor men that would be chosen as subjects. One might ask oneself, why wasn’t an interracial study ever constructed? It would seem logical to do so, since the disease was known to infect white men as well, but these researchers would not have allowed white men to suffer through the course of the disease without being administered treatment, like the black subjects.
The self-interest of the white researchers brought on many studies concerning the black population. Whites never were interested in the well-being of African-Americans. They studied disease-infected black people not to cure them, but to learn how whites could avoid catching their diseases. Before emancipation, black health was looked after because slaves were considered “property of the white man” and seen as an “investment”. After the slaves were freed, their health was studied because of the fear of the white population. Stated in Beyond Consent: Seeking Justice in Research by Kahn, Mastroianni, and Sugarman, “…black health needs were ignored except to the extent that they were relevant to...