Scientific Racism: The Exploitation of African Americans Essay Example
Scientific Racism: The Exploitation of African Americans Essay Example

Scientific Racism: The Exploitation of African Americans Essay Example

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  • Pages: 6 (1523 words)
  • Published: April 6, 2022
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How were black people treated during vaccine studies for cancer, polio, and syphilis? In texts such as The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks By Rebecca Skloot, "Racism and Research: The Case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study" By Allan Brandt, "The Medicine of the Future: A History of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine” By Paul Charlotte, and "The Tuskegee Syphilis Study" By Fred Gray information can be found about how Blacks were mistreated and experimented on. Blacks were treated as control experiments in research projects and treatment of black people during the research of cancer, polio, and syphilis was unethical.

Cancer is a disease characterized by out-of-control cell growth with over a hundred different types of each classified by the kind of cell it initially affects. It harms the body when altered cells divide uncont


rollably to form lumps of tissue referred to as tumors which can affect body functions. Cancerous tumors can be malignant ; they can spread into or nearby tissues or benign whereby they do not spread into nearby tissues. As the norm during early 19th century, many Black people were used as experiments for innovations in the prophylactic vaccine inventions. Henrietta Lacks by medical professionals was a black individual who was a victim of the unethical treatment by professionals. In 1951, she was diagnosed with cancer of the cervix and treated at Hopkins Hospital with the use of radium tube inserts which was a standard treatment at the time. Permission for doctors to use anyone’s body tissue was not obtained as it was a tradition for the patients looking for care in public hospitals. Affected tissue and healthy tissues from Henrietta were

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obtained without her consent. George Gray, a researcher at Hopkins, had tried in previous years to study cancerous cells but, had failed at the time as cells died in vitro. However the cells obtained from Henrietta and presented to Gray as a sample of his study did not die, instead they continued multiplying and dividing. After Henrietta's death, the professional biologist used the cells for research, producing HeLa cells that latter allowed for the establishment of Salk vaccines that eradicated almost the whole world of polio. The medical-industrial complex continued the inequalities by race and by the exploitation of Henrietta’s cells.

A highly infectious disease caused by a virus. It invades mostly the central nervous system where its effects are irreversible causing paralysis in a matter of hours. It has no cure, but can be controlled through vaccinations hence the strategy to irradiate it is only through immunizing children. In the early 20th century, polio epidemic appeared in North America and the public felt that Black people were rarely affected. Wealthy whites infected with the virus were seen as an anomaly as the disease initially was associated with the poor. But, later it was conceived to affect everyone. With the presence of few black children affected by the conditions, i.e., five cases in every three hundred contrasted the ‘constitution’ primitive race. George Draper, a clinician, had studied the disease for some time. He argued that the reason for blacks to be less affected by the conditions was as a result of the constitutional makeup.

Whereby blacks were immune and traditional assumptions that biologically they were different from whites pushing the experiment further through the study of syphilis

where blacks were used and described as ‘syphilis-soaked race.’ All this study described blacks as pathological and alien in nature, with the segregated health systems the Black Nurses and Doctors, without any specialized training in polio, tried to provide insight scientific expertise into the disease. Then when Roosevelt was elected to the White House, he led to the merging of medical and social rehabilitation in Warm Springs inclusive of the blacks as staffs. Changing the notion of the blacks, as well the foundation contributing significantly to the research of polio, eventually providing the vaccination provided by Salk from the HeLa cells obtained from Henrietta Lacks. The claim that the cell was commercialized was not the sole intentions for the primary purpose of the scientist, but was only making his research to help mankind cells. And through Gray’s research, together with Salk, the creation of the HeLa cells led to the invention of the polio vaccine.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease. Treponema pallidum is the bacteria believed to cause this contagious disease. Syphilis was once a major menace causing long-term effects such as brain damage, arthritis, and blindness. The disease infection occurs in three different phases: primary syphilis where people develop small painless sores, secondary syphilis stage which lasts for one to three months and people in this stage experience a rosy rash typically on palms, and tertiary syphilis the last phase which if not treated may result in severe problems with the heart, brain, and nervous system.? Blacks were treated as control experiments in research projects. For syphilis blacks were not valued and were treated as guinea pigs for human experimentation. According to Skoolt, “Henreitta

also had syphilis, which could suppress the immune system and cause the cancer cells to grow vigorously.”

Research on syphilis occurred in Tuskegee, Alabama. It dealt with monitoring African- Americans to discover the effects of untreated syphilis. The study involved 600 black men, 399 being syphilitic and 201 who did not have the disease “Rothstein, Mark A. "Ethical issues in big data health research: currents in contemporary bioethics”. The main purpose was to study the effect of untreated syphilis. The study was conducted without the consent of the patients. From Skloot, we learn that Henrietta’s cells were extracted without her consent. “Like many doctors of this era, TeLinde used patients from his ward for research, without their knowledge” In the 1950s, the concept of informed consent that we enjoy today did not exist. During this phase, many of the participants began to die because of the effect of untreated syphilis. After this test penicillin became the standard treatment for syphilis. Choices among the doctor involved treating the syphilitic or using some men as a control group for to test the effectiveness of the vaccine. Penicillin vaccine was validated in 1940s. Study failures such as Whistleblower led to amendments in the U.S laws and the protection of individuals involved in the research. The final phase occurred from 1965 to 1972. Over two-thirds of the participants were deceased.

Many people involved in the study also started reconsidering the morality of the study. At this point, Fred Gray joined the surviving participant in the struggle for justice. The living syphilitics were awarded $10 million, but they were not satisfied until May 16, 1997, when President Clinton openly apologized for the

injurious deeds the government had committed. ?Now research requires consent, communication and accurate recording of test results. The defenders of the research believe that the moral critics were propelled by politics. They argue that individuals who developed tertiary syphilis were treated. They also claimed that there was no significant increase in health risk of the individuals involved, rather it would avail required knowledge on the control. The study was to provide the natural origin of the disease, effect of the disease, and also study the pathological course among the whites and blacks. They also argue that morbidity and mortality of the participants was not substantially influenced by participation.

In conclusion, these experiments describe unethical human experimentation. The deliberate infection of people with diseases, biological and chemical weapons was inhuman. A large proportion of the participants were the minorities, prisoners, and the poor. Hopkins was built as a charity hospital for the sick and poor, it covered a vast area which was once a cemetery and insane asylum. According to Skloot, Henrietta cells are extracted without her consent, this shows the research was unethical. During the polio, syphilis and cancer research suffering was also experienced, from The Immortal Life of Henrietta, “doctors examined her inside and out, pressing her stomach, inserting new catheters into her bladder, fingers into her vagina and anus as well as needles into her vagina.”(40) From the Tuskegee study, The Immortal Life of Henrietta and the research on racism, we can conclude that during the research on these vaccines a lot of suffering was experienced.

Works Cited

  1. Brandt, Allen. "Racism and Research: The Case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study." Racism and Research: The Case

of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The Hastings Center Report, 1978.Web. 28 May 2016. <>.

  • Charlotte, Paul. "The Medicine of the Future: A History of the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, 1886 - 2011." Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 35.6 (2011): 584.
  • Defenses of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study: Assessment of Empirical Claims. University of Otago, 17 July 2015. Web. 28 May 2016. <>.
  • Gray, Fred. "The Tuskegee Syphilis Study."The Tuskegee Syphilis Study.New South Books, 1998.Web. 28 May 2016. <>.
  • Rothstein, Mark A. "Ethical issues in big data health research: currents in contemporary bioethics." The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics 43.2 (2015): 425-429.
  • Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown, 2010. Print.
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