Henry Ford Cardiologist was First Voice Against the Tuskegee Study

The headline in the research journal was so startling that Dr. Irwin Schatz had to read it several times before it sunk in:

“The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis: 30 years of Observation”

The year was 1964 and Dr. Schatz was a young cardiologist at Henry Ford Hospital when he came upon the study.

Dr. Irwin Schatz (Photo courtesy of The John A. Burns School of Medicine)

Dr. Irwin Schatz (Photo courtesy of The John A. Burns School of Medicine)

Little did he know at the time that his subsequent actions and response to the study would become a lasting legacy, a point remembered and celebrated in pieces written this week in the New York Times and Washington Post to mark Dr. Schatz’s recent passing at the age of 83.

Dr. Schatz was called the “first, lonely voice” to object to the now-infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis in rural African-American men in Alabama.

Only four years out of medical school and with limited resources, Dr. Schatz was truly courageous in his actions.

Objecting to the experiments on uneducated black men of the Tuskegee, Dr. Schatz wrote a scathing letter to the study authors at the U.S. Public Health Service.

While there was no treatment for syphilis when the study began in 1932, there certainly was a proven, effective treatment available to patients when the study was published – a point strongly noted in the letter Dr. Schatz wrote to the study authors in 1965.

The study had deliberately withheld treatment from the men – and in most cases, the men were not even told that they had this potentially fatal disease, passing it along to women and children. Continue reading

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