Saturday, October 9, 2010

U.S. skeletons rattle again

Despite the problems the United States has, I believe most people reading this are grateful to live in our country. We enjoy a level of freedom that a lot of people do not enjoy around the world.

Still, we have our struggles.

Our federal government is too large and inefficient. The government also probes our personal lives in ways that make us feel uncomfortable. However, I think most would agree that life could be a whole lot worse.

Of course, this does not mean that our government does not have skeletons in its closet. A vivid reminder of that occurred last week.

Last week, federal officials apologized for medical experiments performed more than 60 years ago that were both shocking and ghastly.

From 1946-48, the U.S. government participated in a medical study that deliberately infected hundreds of mentally ill patients and prisoners in Guatemala. The clinical trial that involved the U.S. Public Health Service and was co-sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the Pan American Health Sanitary Bureau and the Guatemalan government, exposed almost 700 people to such sexually transmitted diseases as syphilis and gonorrhea.

In a joint statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius stated: "We are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health. We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices."

Wow. If news like this does not send a cold chill down a person's spine, then I do not know what will.

Incredibly, there have been similar experiments that have been exposed in the past. For example, President Bill Clinton apologized in 1997 for studies that saw American citizens treated like the people in Guatemala.

Known as the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male," the study started in 1932 and followed the conditions of 400 black men who contracted syphilis. The men were not treated and were only told that they suffered from "bad blood."

"To determine the natural course of syphilis, the researchers withheld from the infected men what was then the standard treatment -- mercury and arsenic compounds," the New York Times reported in 1997. "Then, in 1947, when penicillin was found to be an effective treatment for syphilis, it too was withheld.

"Federal researchers eventually went so far as to get local physicians to promise not to provide antibiotics to individuals in the study,” according to the Times.

These examples of medical studies gone wild should provoke us to consider a lot of issues.

First of all, a lot of time has passed since these studies took place. Therefore, it is impossible to hold those accountable who directed these studies. However, these experiments should help us understand why some mistrust the government.

When people rebuke minority groups who claim the system is racist, we should understand that this mistrust is rooted in situations like this. Remember, these studies picked on people that the government should have been protecting. The government exploited these people and now must suffer the scorn of public opinion.

Additionally, examples like this should remind us that we must remain vigilant when keeping an eye on our federal government. We are in an election season and negativity continues to run rampant in our country.

It is not like people need much of a reason to be cynical toward the government. When we hear of stories like this, it is like heaping coal on a blazing fire.

The bottom line is that situations like these should make us shake our head with disbelief.

Now, all we can do is make sure this never happens again.

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