CDC Director Slammed for Calling 'Racist' Tuskegee Study a 'Sacrifice'
CDC Director Slammed for Calling 'Racist' Tuskegee Study a Sacrifice'
BY SHIRA LI BARTOV ON 11/30/22 AT 3:17 PM EST
01:04CDC Director Slammed For Calling 'Racist' Tuskegee Study a 'Sacrifice'
U.S. #CDC #SYPHILIS #RACISMTWITTER Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky sparked outrage on Wednesday after calling the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study a "sacrifice" from Black men.
Ahead of a CDC event marking the 50th anniversary of the study's end on Wednesday, Walensky tweeted, "I will be joined by colleagues & #PublicHealth leaders as we honor the 623 African American men, their suffering & sacrifice, and our commitment to ethical research and practice." The 40-year Tuskegee experiment, originally called the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," has become synonymous with a legacy of exploitation and racism in the medical establishment. Between 1932 and 1972, the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) conducted the study on 600 Black men, including 399 with syphilis. The purpose of the experiment was to observe the progression of the disease when left untreated, but participants were not informed of this and instead told they were being treated for "bad blood," according to the CDC. Penicillin became widely available as a treatment for syphilis by 1943, but researchers refused to administer it. Here, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky testifies during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing on September 14, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Walensky sparked outrage on Wednesday after calling the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study a “sacrifice” from Black men.
DREW ANGERER / STAFF/GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA The study ended in 1972 after being exposed by a whistleblower who went to the Associated Press. But 128 participants died of syphilis or related complications, while 40 wives were infected and 19 children were born with congenital syphilis, according to the Equal Justice Initiative. Walensky's tweet prompted a furious backlash from social media users who decried her framing of the Tuskegee study. NEWSWEEK SUBSCRIPTION OFFERS > Artist Clifton Duncan described the CDC head's messaging as "disgusting."
"If Walensky has the audacity to reframe one of the most infamously unethical and racist medical experiments in American history as some sort of noble sacrifice, a reasonable person might question her judgment regarding the COVID response, and wonder why she's still employed," tweeted Duncan.
Twitter user @LaReinaCreole chimed in, "This wasn't a 'sacrifice'. These BLACK MEN were used as human guinea pigs. The Tuskegee Experiment was so deplorable it is used as a textbook study of how clinical trials should NOT be run." "Whitewashing one of the most horrific incidences of governmental racism conducted against African Americans in the modern era," tweeted FCB Podcast Network CEO and Newsweek Opinion contributor Darvio Morrow. "The Tuskegee experiment didn't end until 1972. Many black people don't trust the medical profession to this day because of this. She's shameful."
A 2017 study from Stanford University and University of Tennessee researchers found the disclosure of the Tuskegee study correlated with increased medical mistrust and mortality among older Black men, along with decreased physician interactions. In response to the experiment's revelation, life expectancy for Black men at age 45 fell by up to 1.5 years, according to the study.
A few social media users came to Walensky's defense, arguing that her tweet was poorly written but misinterpreted. Twitter user @HistoryBoomer said, "This is a horribly worded tweet but I don't think it means that Walensky or the CDC are evil. Badly worded tweets happen. Discussing the crime of Tuskegee and a future commitment to ethical research are good things."