December 15, 2013

On this day December 15th...

DARC Ethiophile Chronicles

On December 15, 1883 William Augustus Hinton, developer of "Hinton Test" for diagnosing syphilis, was born in Chicago. His parents, Augustus Hinton and Maria Clark, were both former slaves.

As a professor, Hinton taught preventative medicine and hygiene at Harvard from 1923, for 27 years. His book on syphilis, a serious public health threat, became widely acclaimed. Dr. Hinton noted the role of socioeconomics in health and called syphilis "a disease of the underprivileged”.  Dr. Hinton also taught at Tufts University and Simmons College. Despite losing a leg in a car accident in 1940, he continued to teach at Harvard until 1950, and kept working at the Wassermann laboratory until 1953. Like Vivien Thomas, he was an avid gardener and furniture craftsman. Dr. Hinton transitioned in 1959 at the age of 75 in Massachusetts.

The fact that Dr. Hinton a black man invented the diagnosis for syphilis and worked as a special consultant to the U.S. Public Health Service serves an added disgust regarding the infamous and Wicked Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

For forty years between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) conducted an experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis. These men, for the most part illiterate sharecroppers from one of the poorest counties in Alabama, were never told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness. Informed that they were being treated for “bad blood,” their doctors had no intention of curing them of syphilis at all.

One of the most chilling aspects of the experiment was how zealously the PHS kept these men from receiving treatment. When several nationwide campaigns to eradicate venereal disease came to Macon County, the men were prevented from participating. Even when penicillin the first real cure for syphilis was discovered in the 1940s, the Tuskegee men were deliberately denied the medication. Even the Surgeon General of the United States participated in enticing the men to remain in the experiment, sending them certificates of appreciation after 25 years in the study.

Although the PHS touted the study as one of great scientific merit, from the outset its actual benefits were hazy. It took almost forty years before someone involved in the study took a hard and honest look at the end results, reporting that “nothing learned will prevent, find, or cure a single case of infectious syphilis or bring us closer to our basic mission of controlling venereal disease in the United States.”

The PHS did not accept the media's comparison of Tuskegee with the appalling experiments performed by Nazi doctors on their Jewish victims during World War II. Yet in addition to the medical and racist parallels, the PHS offered the same morally bankrupt defense offered at the Nuremberg trials: they claimed they were just carrying out orders, mere cogs in the wheel of the PHS bureaucracy, exempt from personal responsibility.

On May 16, 1997 in an “apology” to the eight remaining survivors for the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, President Clinton said that,  "The United States government did something that was wrong—deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens... clearly racist."

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