Did the Nov. 30 On Faith article “ A look at religion’s effect on minority end-of-life views ” misconstrue the comments of medical sociologist Karen Bullock about the notorious Tuskegee studies?
She was paraphrased as describing “the infamous Tuskegee experiment, in which black men were injected with syphilis and studied but not treated.” The Tuskegee studies were inexcusable, but there is no evidence that the men enrolled in the studies were “injected with syphilis.”
The U.S. Public Health Service studies involved 600 farmers from northern Alabama, 399 who had contracted syphilis before the studies began and 201 who were without the disease. Among the many horrible aspects of the studies, the syphilitic men were never told they had the disease and, although antibiotic treatment was readily available, that treatment was withheld so that the course of the disease could be observed.
Ed Liebow, Washington
The Post erroneously conflated the Tuskegee studies with the later Guatemala syphilis experiment.
In Guatemala, researchers infected the subjects. The ethical breach in Tuskegee occurred when penicillin, an effective treatment for syphilis, was not offered to the subjects.
Bad acts were committed in both projects, and this sad history colors end-of-life discussions with minority families. But there is no need to throw gasoline on the fire with misstatement of fact.
Robert D. Lafsky, Great Falls