BAD BLOOD by James Jones


Hippocrates is generally regarded as the father of modern medicine. He wrote these words over one thousand years ago:
“Physician: thou shalt do no harm.”

These words formed the corner stone of the Hippocratic Oath, an oath that medical school graduates are still sworn in by to this day. Even though Hippocrates is revered in name and speech, his legacy has been discarded in actual day to day practice. Today’s mainstream medical doctors have strayed far from the path cleared for them by Hippocrates.

The new rallying cry of medical doctors today seems to be “Profit over patient care.” The medical profession today no longer attracts those men and women interested in providing authentic health care. Rather, the profession seems to attract the most materialistic, greedy, and selfish elements of our society. No wonder that the American health care system is ranked 37th in the world by the World Health Organization (WHO) behind such countries as Costa Rica, Canada, and Singapore. No wonder that medical doctors in the US as a group constitute the third largest cause of death in this country. No wonder hospitals across the nation are the most dangerous places in the world for a sick person.

Medical doctors and their most nefarious institution, the hospital, have become the enemies of health in America. Moreover, their insistence on relying on prescription drugs and surgery as their only two treatment modalities has limited their usefulness to an extremely narrow range of ailments, and flys in direct contradiction to the teachings of Hippocrats, who also said, “Let food be your medicine.” The scientific method has been replaced by dogma emanating from the pharmaceutical industry, which has a behind the scenes stranglehold on mainstream MDs.

Doctors are just as susceptible to day to day politics, social conditioning, and popular culture as the rest of us. Unfortunately, this means they can lose their objectivity, and when that happens their patients suffer. This was never more apparent than with the modern day tragedy known as the Tuskegee Experiment, where the physicians and scientists involved reflected perfectly the values and attitudes of white men residing in the Deep South. Are you familiar with the Tuskegee Experiment? Have you heard the story of how good blood turned bad? If not, I will share a portion of that story with you here today, but I must warn you: this is not a story that goes down easy, either in the telling of it or in the hearing. The Tuskegee Experiment was an experiment in genocide aimed at African Americans by the United States government. The experiment began in 1932 when the US government decided to continue its practice of human experimentation by luring over 700 unsuspecting blacks from Tuskegee, Alabama with the promise of free health care. Out of the 700 plus recruited, 412 were injected with the spirochete that causes syphilis and then studied like lab rats over the next forty years – at least that is how I had always heard the story. The book, Bad Blood, stops short of saying that the poor black farmers were actually injected. Rather, it states that the 412 infected men were diagnosed with syphilis, meaning they already had the disease when they were recruited. Anyway, over the next 40 years these men were left untreated and studied like guinea pigs. They were denied treatment, and they were denied the cure when penicillin became widely available in the forties. They were allowed to infect their spouses and bring forth damaged children. They were allowed to suffer, wither away, and die. They were the victims of criminal cruelty, and although the names of the guilty were well known they were never brought to justice. Fortunately, the experiment ended in 1972 when a reporter broke the story to the public.

In the late 1980’s, PBS aired an interview with the last surviving medical doctor of the Tuskegee Experiment. I happened to catch that episode. I don’t remember the doctor’s name, but I do remember his smug attitude. He felt no remorse for his participation in the experiment, and he described the poor black farmers as ignorant and simple minded. He said they were “like sheep.” He also denied that racism played any role in the study. Despite the fact that all the doctors were white and all the subjects were black, he felt obliged to point out that a certain black nurse, Eunice Rivers, was involved for over twenty years. And I guess this lady’s willingness to sell her people down the river for a few crumbs of bread somehow mitigates the crime committed by these doctors and scientists, and is supposed to convince us that these so called health care professionals were not card carrying members of the Klan.

This whole episode bothers me on so many different levels. It bothers me that the men duped into this false study were never viewed as patients, and really not even viewed as human beings. Consider the following… A post mortem exam of an animal to determine the cause of death is called a necropsy. The same type of inquiry into the cause of death in human beings, as we all know, is called an autopsy. Well, necropsy was consistently used as the term of choice to describe the post-mortem exams of those that were lead to their deaths in the Tuskegee Experiment. Most of all, it bothers me that not a single doctor was ever prosecuted for malpractice; not a single doctor was reprimanded; not a single doctor was ever held accountable for his actions. I find that unconscionable.

When the study finally fell under public scrutiny in 1972, the study was brought to an abrupt end, and a class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the 100 (+) survivors by a prominent civil rights attorney, Fred Gray. This is the same attorney that defended Rosa Parks in 1955 after she refused to relinquish her bus seat. He also defended Martin Luther King, Jr in the Montgomery Bus Boycott that followed Rosa Park’s action. Mr. Gray eventually won ten million dollars as a settlement from the government. The survivors received $37,000 each, and the attorney walked away with $1,000,000. This is not a misprint; the attorney received one million dollars from the settlement, many times more than any of the victims. The funds were disbursed in 1975. By then many of the survivors were blind, insane, or knocking at death’s door.

The book, Bad Blood, documents an important episode in American History that is seldom discussed and never taught as part of any public school curriculum that I know of. My biggest criticism of the book is that the story does not really begin until page 91. The first 90 pages are devoted to history, background, setting the stage. Although I found this information interesting, I would have edited the book differently. For some, the reading will remind you of a three hour movie that should have told the story in two.

What scared me most about Bad Blood was understanding that the mindset that made the Tuskegee Experiment possible still exists today. You’re kidding yourself if you think otherwise.


Review Contributed by
Kevin Thomas, author of Stonheart: The Bronx, due summer ‘09
www.StoneheartBx.com



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Comment by COLOREDPEOPLE.NET on April 9, 2009 at 12:10pm
There are so many who are unaware of vaccine experiments on inmates, foster children to name a few, and this is a great resource, not only for exposing this travesty, but learning about these extraordinary men. Thank you!!
Comment by Lydell Jackson on April 8, 2009 at 6:36pm
Great job Kevin! Thanks for your support! Looking forward to more...

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