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Sour legacy of tuskegee syphilis study lingers { May 16 1997 }

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Sour legacy of Tuskegee syphilis study lingers

May 16, 1997
Web posted at: 9:05 p.m. EDT (0105 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Tuskegee syphilis study, even with President Clinton's apology Friday on the government's behalf, remains a low point for the public health service.

The experiments have left a legacy of mistrust in the African-American community that is tangible enough to be measured by social scientists in the Birmingham, Alabama, area.

"About 22 percent of African-Americans who we surveyed in the Birmingham area had some mistrust with regards to participating in research studies because of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study," said Lee Green of the University of Alabama.

The Tuskegee study is a symbol of racial and scientific exploitation.

"We found that it's both government and doctors. A lot of the people we spoke with mentioned how they're treated in health settings," Green said.

James Jones' book, "Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment," chronicles the study that ran from the 1930s into the 1970s.

"They did not understand that treatment was being withheld. They did not understand they had syphilis," Jones said. "They were not given enough information to make anything like an informed decision."

Men in study were told they had 'bad blood'

Beginning in the 1930s, 399 men signed up with the U.S. Public Health Service for free medical care. The service was conducting a study on the effects of syphilis on the human body and, at the time, the sexually transmitted disease was rampant in Macon County, Alabama.

The men were never told they had syphilis. They were told they had "bad blood" and were denied access to treatment, even for years after penicillin came into use in 1947.

By the time the study was exposed in 1972, 28 men had died of syphilis, 100 others were dead of related complications, at least 40 wives had been infected and 19 children had contracted the disease at birth.

The government has distributed about $10 million to more than 6,000 survivors and their family members after settling a 1973 class-action lawsuit.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, among other people, pushed for the presidential apology.

"Our challenge in the public health service is to create that system that people can trust, and to continue to strengthen that system," said CDC Director Dr. David Satcher.

Clinton announces grants

Clinton also began an effort to encourage more blacks to pursue careers in bioethics and medical research by announcing a $200,000 planning grant to Tuskegee University to pursue building a Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care.

The White House said the center would serve as a "lasting memorial" to "address the legacy of the syphilis study."

Clinton also announced the creation of bioethics fellowships for minority students, offered by the Department of Health and Human Services.

Correspondent Jeff Levine and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Sour legacy of tuskegee syphilis study lingers { May 16 1997 }
Tuskegee presidential apology { January 14 1997 }
Tuskegee syphilis study timeline
Tuskegee { July 25 2002 }

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