This was the only doctor who fought against the Tuskegee experiments

Published On April 25, 2015 | By Admin | Health, Politics, The latest posts, The recent past

By Ryan Brennan

It was the year 1964, when Dr. Irwin Schatz was just a young doctor from Detroit who enjoyed reading medical journals, when he read a headline that stunned him. After reading it over a few times in disbelief of what he thought he read, he saw that the title didn’t change. It read, “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis: 30 Years of Observation.”

“The message was unmistakable,” said Schatz in an e-mail he had sent to the Hawaii news site Civil Beat. “These researchers had deliberately withheld treatment for this group of poor, uneducated, black sharecroppers from Mississippi with late syphilis 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?”

Four years after Schatz completed medical school, he wrote a letter that was targeted towards the authors of the study. In the letter, he explained the same feelings he expressed in the e-mail to Civil Beat. He recited that he felt it was wrong for physicians to withhold treatment to a curable disease. “I assume you feel that the information which is extracted from observation of this untreated group is worth their sacrifice,” Dr. Irwin Schatz wrote in the letter. “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 re-evaluate their moral judgments in this regard.”

Yes, Schatz’ letter was read by one of the authors of the study. However, it simply got blown over and forgotten. It wasn’t until two years later that another letter was written in opposition to their study. No one was paying any attention to what was going on there and the authors continued to do what they were set out to do.

Dr. Irwin Schatz was found dead at his Honolulu home earlier this month. At the time of his death, he was 83 years old. Although he wasn’t given that much credit for being the study’s first lone critic, his legend will definitely live on.

Schatz is survived by his sons, Jacob, Edward, Stephen and Brian, as well as his nine grandchildren and one sister, Bea Berger. He was finally recognized as the Tuskegee study’s first opponent in 2009, when he was named a “medical hero” by the Mayo Clinic.

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