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October 16: Protesting the Tuskegee Study

October 15, 2015

18schatz-obit-master180Dr. Irwin Schatz, the only medical professional to write a letter of protest about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment — a letter ignored when written but uncovered years later by an investigator, Peter Buxton, who blew the whistle on the experiment — was born to kosher restaurateurs in St. Boniface, Canada on this date in 1931. Schatz read about the experiment, in which black men in the South were deliberately withheld effective treatment for syphilis, in the December 1964 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. Only four years out of medical school and working as a cardiologist in Detroit, he wrote to to the study’s senior author: “I am utterly astounded by the fact that physicians allow patients with potentially fatal disease to remain untreated when effective therapy is available. I assume you feel that the information which is extracted from observation of this untreated group is worth their sacrifice. If this is the case, then I suggest the United States Public Health Service and those physicians associated with it in this study need to reevaluate their moral judgments in this regard.” In 2009, the Mayo Clinic gave Dr. Schatz a Distinguished Alumni Award. He died at 83 in April of this year. His son, Brian Schatz, is a Democratic senator from Hawaii.

“These researchers had deliberately withheld treatment for this group of poor, uneducated, black sharecroppers in order to document what eventually might happen to them. I became incensed. How could physicians, who were trained first and foremost to do no harm, deliberately withhold curative treatment so they could understand the natural history of syphilis?” —Dr. Irwin Schatz