The Common Background of the People Behind the Tuskegee Experiment

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The intellectual background of the physicians who first led the infamous study, in which treatment was withheld from black men infected with syphilis, helps explain how the research project came about, two professors write.

The authors -- Paul A. Lombardo, an associate professor at the University of Virginia's Center for Biomedical Ethics, and Gregory M. Dorr, an assistant professor of history at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa -- say "the intellectual background of the study's founders provides a perspective that shows how their training contributed to the most notorious chapter in U.S. medical research and public health history."

The physician who started the study and the two who presided over it during its first decade all graduated from the University of Virginia, which, according to the authors, "provided fertile ground for developing what was apparently among the earliest medical course work incorporating eugenic theory." Eugenic theory, they note, posits that "people of different races inherited not only differences in appearance, moral character, and sexual behavior, but also differential susceptibility to disease."

The authors say that at Virginia, the three physicians were taught a brand of racial medicine that had found scientific validation in eugenics. Moreover, they say that during each of their tenures at the Public Health Service, all three men actively associated themselves with the American eugenics movement.

In conclusion, they write, "in the intellectual and professional development of the men who initiated the Tuskegee study, the accepted conclusions of racial medicine gave way to eugenic rationales that were necessary antecedents to their 'objective' and 'scientific' study of disease. As a result, the racial biases 'proven' by eugenics became the foundation blocks upon which they constructed their study."

The study appears in the current issue of Bulletin of the History of Medicine under the title: Eugenics and the Tuskegee study.

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Nancy REYES - 6/25/2006

The Eugenics movement also influenced the sterilization of the retarded, of course...I was under the impression many of these were also minorities, but don't have the details.
And a similar "experiment" of non treatment of streptococcus strains associated with acute Glomerulonephritis was done in Red Lake Minnesota...on Chippewa Indians in the 1960's. Some things stay the same...