It’s been 50 years ago last month since the nation learned about one of the most shameful and consequential chapters in U.S. medical research (and there’s a fair bit to pick from). In the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” the U.S. Public Health Service enrolled 600 Black male sharecroppers from Tuskegee, Alabama, and intentionally withheld information and treatment from approximately 200 of the 399 Black men who had syphilis while researchers studied how the disease affected their life course.
Key takeaways for journalists
- An understanding of health care racial/ethnic disparities is essential for ethical reporting on health and medicine.
- The Tuskegee Study is a consequence of U.S. institutional racism and false beliefs about Black men, and it’s one contributor to health care disparities among Black Americans today.
- A basic familiarity with the facts of the Tuskegee Study is crucial for health reporters to know.
- Part of the Tuskegee Study’s enduring legacy contributes to the mistrust and/or skepticism many Black Americans have regarding health care and medicine.
- The Tuskegee Study alone is not the primary driver of Black mistrust in health care and should not be dismissively used as a scapegoat to explain a complex phenomenon informed by people’s personal experience, a long history of personal and structural racism in U S. health care, and the continuing systemic racism that exists in U.S. health care and medicine.