Racism, Research, and the Breaking of the Hippocratic Oath

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2013 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. Manes 2 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 t... ... middle of paper ... ...unity who had syphilis” (Gray 105). This study lacked reason, but more importantly, this study lacked morality. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study revealed more about the nature of racism than it ever revealed about the nature of latent syphilis. In the words of Maya Angelou, “Prejudice is a Manes 9 burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.” Racism and prejudice have existed since the beginning of time and are present in our world today. The world can only hope that society will advance and will grasp that racism is a fancy word for ignorance. The Tuskegee case opened they eyes of many Americans and eliminated prejudice from scientific and medical communities. It took forty years to end this unjust research study, but the painful and even deadly effects on its participants would linger on forever.

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