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President Clinton Apologizes for the Syphilis

Updated on January 29, 2014
The government wishes people would just forget about this embarrassing and regrettable event
The government wishes people would just forget about this embarrassing and regrettable event | Source

President Clinton Apologizes

The 25th anniversary of the public apology came and went without much notice. The government wishes people would just forget about this embarrassing and regrettable event in US history, but lucky for you, I'm here to tear off the scab.

On May 16th, 1997, President Clinton stood in front of eight African American survivors and apologized for what the government had done to them. When you are a kid, you are taught in school that the government is here to protect and serve you. Later on in life you quickly realize they are here to serve and protect themselves.

Unfortunately, you begin to sound like the conspiracy guy in the tinfoil hat if you start pointing out all the bad things about the USA. People do not want to hear about the terrible cover-ups the government perpetrates regularly behind the public's back.

But sometimes there is something so horrible, so atrocious, that you have to risk pissing off your friends and family and talk about it. And you don’t have to feel like a conspiracy theorist when the president publicly admits that the government did it, and it was wrong.

One of the worst cases of government abuse came from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama
One of the worst cases of government abuse came from the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama | Source

399 Unknowing Victims of the Study

Since the inception of medicine, the government has been testing drugs on unsuspecting participants. Normally, the government would choose to inject poor soldiers with whatever they wanted, since they knew the troops would comply with what they were commanded.

One of the worst cases of government abuse came out of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama in 1932. The government wanted to observe the full development of untreated syphilis in adults.

Syphilis, if not treated, is a particularly nasty disease
Syphilis, if not treated, is a particularly nasty disease | Source

Syphilis, if not treated, is a particularly nasty disease. The first stage involves ulcers on the genitals which usually heal on their own, but are highly infectious.

The second stage of the disease manifests itself as a contagious rash on the palms and soles of the feet. In the last full-blown stages of syphilis, the disease can cause malformations in the joints, and tissue loss. It also ravages the brain, causing dementia, confusion, and death.

Subjects talking with study coordinator, Nurse Eunice Rivers
Subjects talking with study coordinator, Nurse Eunice Rivers | Source

Government Bribery

The study recruited an African American nurse named Eunice Rivers to help find 399 black men affected with syphilis.

Although she was aware they would only be observing and not treating, she went along with the study to keep her job. The men in the study group were unaware they were infected, and the nature of the study was never disclosed.

The participants were bribed with hot meals, free health care, and even burial insurance. A proper burial service with a casket was considered an expensive luxury back then; consequently, this was very appealing to the test subjects. Also most of the patients were extremely poor and had never been to a doctor, therefore the offer was too good to turn down.

The participants were bribed with hot meals, free health care, and even burial insurance
The participants were bribed with hot meals, free health care, and even burial insurance | Source
The government doctors and nurses told them they just had "bad blood"
The government doctors and nurses told them they just had "bad blood" | Source

"Bad Blood"

To avoid alerting the test subjects they had syphilis, the government doctors and nurses told them they just had "bad blood." The physicians feared if the patients really knew they had the disease, they would leave the study and seek treatment.

The test subjects were deliberately kept in the dark so the doctors could watch the natural progression of the disease. One of the most heinous things the doctors did to the human guinea pigs was lie to them about getting a shot to help cure the 'bad blood.'

The actual "shot" involved was a spinal tap: sticking a large needle into the spine to take a blood sample. The spinal tap was never used to cure anything; it was purely for diagnostic purposes. In the 1930s this was a significantly dangerous procedure, as it could cause paralysis or even death by infection.

Over the years these poor folks unknowingly infected their families and communities
Over the years these poor folks unknowingly infected their families and communities | Source

Deformities in Children

After the initial six-month study revealed nothing conclusive, the government extended the study indefinitely to observe the long-term effects of syphilis.

A singularly inhuman aspect of the study was the fact that it is an infectious disease. Over the years these poor folks unknowingly infected their families and communities.

Syphilis is particularly horrid where children are concerned: little ones are affected more severely than adults. A child can suffer from whole body lesions, malformed teeth (Hutchinson's incisors and Mulberry molars), joint deformities, and blindness.

The percentage of miscarriages and stillborns was extremely high. Mothers having stillborn babies often had complications and sometimes died.

Hutchinson's incisors present in a child with congenital syphilis
Hutchinson's incisors present in a child with congenital syphilis | Source

President Clinton Apologizes

Only The Taxpayer is Punished for the Forty Year Study

A mass penicillin treatment for syphilis was ordered in 1943. Mandatory screening and treatment in Alabama to everyone except those in the long-term study.

The Surgeon General, Thomas Parrin, was quoted, “They must remain infected; the opportunity to observe these men may never come again.”

The study spanned the years 1932-1972 and only stopped because the press exposed it. The forty-year study had no medically-beneficial results; it only produced misery and suffering.

President Clinton made a pubic apology and the government paid off the survivors. The survivors and their families received US$9 million in compensation, and free medical care for the rest of their lives. Ultimately the taxpayers got stuck with a huge bill for the forty-year study, and then shelled out more money for the settlements.

No bureaucrat or government agent was ever held accountable for this travesty.

Are They Still Doing It?

Do You Think The Government Is Still Testing on People Without Their Knowledge?

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Other Similar Testing

This was not the first or last time the government ran medical studies without the knowledge of the participants. Here are just a few other medical tests they have admitted to during the same time period as the Tuskegee trials:

In the early 1940s, prisoners in the Statesboro Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois, were injected with malaria so that the United States Army and State Department could study the disease. To avoid complaints and lawsuits from the family members, the doctors mainly infected mentally ill patients and wards of the state. The test was considered so unethical that it was used as a defense by the Nazis during the Nuremberg trials.

The Tuskegee Institute

A markerTuskegee Institute Alameda -
Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee Institute National, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, AL 36088, USA
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Where the study took place

And let’s not forget the other horrible syphilis study that US researchers did outside of the country. In 2010, the United States government made a formal symbolic apology to the people of Guatemala for infecting over 700 of them with syphilis. In 1946, the Army wanted to know if penicillin was effective in treating the disease, so they purposely infected Guatemalan prisoners.

The study was sponsored by the Pan American Sanitary Bureau (now the World Health Organization’s Pan American Health Organization), the Guatemalan government, Public Health Service, and the National Institutes of Health.

The US government started out infecting orphaned children, but needed more cases, so they looked toward the prisons. The researchers found syphilis-infected prostitutes and offered their services to the prison population. In a short time a large population of inmates was infected. The team was lead by John Charles Cutler, who would later work on the Tuskegee syphilis study. He chose Guatemala because he could do the detestable work without the outrage of the American people.

Please let these studies be a cautionary tale to never trust the government with your health.

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    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 3 years ago from Brazil

      As awful as this is, I suspect it is just the tip of the iceberg.

      Who really knows what is in a pill, an injection, the food we eat and the water we drink?

    • bethperry profile image

      Beth Perry 3 years ago from Tennesee

      What a horrible, horrible unforgivable thing to do to people! Thanks for posting and may this information help make the public aware.