Clinton Apologizes To Tuskegee Experiment Victims
President says he's sorry the federal government sponsored a study 'so clearly racist'
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 16) -- President Bill Clinton offered an emotional apology today for the U.S. government's notorious Tuskegee syphilis study, calling it shameful and racist. (320K wav sound)
In a ceremony at the White House's East Room, Clinton said the government lied to and betrayed hundreds of African-American men who thought they were getting free medical care.
Instead, their syphilis went untreated for decades so medical researchers could study how the disease progressed. Even when it was known that penicillin could cure the disease, the men in the study didn't get it.
"What was done cannot be undone, but we can end the silence," Clinton said. "We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye, and finally say, on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful and I am sorry." (384K wav sound)
By the time the study was exposed in 1972, 28 men had died of syphilis, 100 others were dead of related complications, at least 40 wives had been infected and 19 children had contracted the disease at birth.
Clinton thanked the survivors and family members who came to the White House, saying they had shown the power to forgive and move forward.
"Today all we can do is apologize, but you have the power," Clinton said. "Only you have the power to forgive. Your presence here shows us that you have shown a better path than your government did so long ago. You have not withheld the power to forgive. I hope today and tomorrow every American will remember your lesson and live by it." (384K wav sound)
Clinton suggested one of the study's legacy is a deep distrust of government in the African-American community. "We cannot be one America when a whole segment of our nation has no trust in America," the president said. "An apology is the first step, and we take it with a commitment to rebuild that broken trust."
That mistrust has also resulted, Clinton said, into too little participation by African Americans in modern medical studies. "This impedes efforts to conduct promising research and to provide the best health care to all our people, including African Americans," the president said.
A satellite link brought the event from the White House's East Room to an audience in Tuskegee, Ala., who also applauded the president's apology.
The president was introduced by 94-year-old Herman Shaw, one of the study's survivors.
"We were treated unfairly, to some extent like guinea pigs," Shaw said. "The wounds that were inflicted upon us cannot be undone."
Shaw called for a permanent memorial so the children and grandchildren of men in the study can learn what happened.
"In my opinion, it is never too late to work to restore trust and faith," Shaw said. The other survivors who attended the White House ceremony were Carter Howard, 93; Charlie Pollard, 91; and Fred Simmons, 100. (320K wav sound)
Along with the apology, Clinton proposed a series of concrete steps, including a $200,000 planning grant for a bioethics center at Tuskegee University. The White House said the center would serve as a lasting memorial.
The president also announced new government bioethics fellowships, beginning in 1998, for graduate students, and he directed Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala to draft a report within six months outlining ways to better involve all communities, especially minority communities, in research and health care.
Aides say Clinton, who remains concerned about the state of race relations in the nation, plans to make a major speech on the subject June 14 at the University of California, San Diego.
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