Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Universal Health Care

Note: Readers may consider this off topic since it relates only tangentially to the usual links here. If that is the case please disregard and visit later! In my opinion, however, this is a “Great Commandment” issue.

A doctor draws blood from one of the Tuskegee test subjects.

Unfortunately this link to Wikipedia represents neither the Great Commission or the Great Commandment per se. The doctor’s friendly smile pictured above belies the callous disregard for human life that came to define the entire project. 

In the ongoing debates about health care in the United States, we have forgotten one of the darkest moments in the history of the US Public Health Service is the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. It reminds us that direct and complete government oversight of the medical care delivery system is not always the blessing portrayed.  The study from 1932-1972 continued to observe the progress of Syphilis in blacks long after an effective treatment was found (penicillin) . Those in the study were never treated or told about the possibility of a treatment for decades. A “whistleblower” exposed the program or, for all we know, it might still be going on. A certain Mr. Snowden recently was a whistleblower in another area of government and his efforts are not being treated too kindly it’s easy to see. Whistleblowers are only selectively celebrated depending on just whom their outcries embarrass, no matter how much governments protest their “transparency”.

Yet pastors in the US today are being asked to give unequivocal or un-nuanced support to programs that sound noble but are more difficult to implement than simple platitudes imply. When they don’t immediately conform, they’re criticized for their failure.

New Testament Scholar Scott McKnight recently posted a comment (derived from his blog evidently) on Facebook  lambasting pastors who had not spoken out “loudly enough” about those who don’t have “health insurance”.

As I noted there, this puts pastors in a “no win” situation.

Pastors can’t win. If they speak up on a moral issue that is important to one group like abortion they’re told they’ll have their tax status yanked. If they don’t speak up on a subject of importance to another group, they’re told they’re not being “biblical” in that direction. It’s something of a no-win situation due to a double standard on what comments on morality are acceptable in the public square from the pulpit.

This can be a leading question with a no win answer. The answer “Yes we need health care for those 5 million” 1. Implies they don’t have any access to any care when part of the cost problem is free care given in public hospitals through the overuse of the emergency room (which offering other care options doesn’t seem to help in the case of some “superusers”) or 2. a “Yes” to some means “Great, I can implement my top down tyrannical system that uses health care as a pretext for every social engineering pipe dream I couldn’t implement otherwise if I called it by its real name.”

Remember it was the Public Health Services that carried out the Tuskegee Syphilis Studies from 1932 to 1972 and their “care” amounted to documenting but not treating the long term effects of an STD long after treatment was readily available.

Pastors SHOULD be concerned about access to health care. But that concern should not come at the cost of endorsing unChristian elements of any legislation.

Everybody should question the wisdom of giving unilateral control to any one entity public or private. I’m thankful – for instance – that Allopathic physicians (M.D.’s)  weren’t able to outlaw the treatments given by Chiropractic physicians (D.C.’s) and muzzle their insights. The latter have saved me much anguish! But I’m perfectly happy to consult both depending on the condition! That was – in a sense – the reason for Osteopaths (D.O.’s) in an earlier day when they combined the two approaches more frequently than in this era of medical specialization.

What group in the future – like Blacks in the South in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment – will be deprived care at the whim of a closed marketplace for health care  information or services if ANY ONE INTEREST (government, industry, or medical philosophy) obtains a monopoly that does not need to respond to the consumers/patients?

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment reminds us the dangers of health care monopoly, not just by the government, but by any entity, even some ostensibly “Christian” ones (imagine a Radical Charismatic Health Care Czar outlawing anything but faith healing if you must).

Now lets look at the bill pastors are criticized for not endorsing.

So far the bungled Affordable Care Act has only succeeded in passing regulations that has consequences that every pastor and Christians should oppose. The Affordable Care Act:

This “collateral damage” as far as marriage and abortion was almost certainly a planned outcome representing a secular agenda designed to enhance the long term unquestioned power of the government by undermining the family as primary “safety net”.

The last two were either “unintended consequences” that even the “policy wonks” whose full time job is to anticipate such things never foresaw, or they were cruel facts these “wonks” were unwilling to disclose in order to pursue some other agenda.

If the full time policy wonks can’t create a system for health coverage any better than this within Christian parameters, why should it be endorsed without qualification by any “layman” in the health field? Aren’t pastors the people we otherwise criticize for meddling in fields outside their expertise, except of course when they can be used as props for some agenda?

Christians and pastors need to be concerned about not only universal health care, but also the universal regard for life, the necessity for common morality in a society, the viability of the family and church against other coercive power structures and monopolies that seek to dominate people, the availability of employment and many other issues.

We should also remember that we would not be having this health care discussion at all without Christianity… Christians created the first health care systems and should remain in the forefront of them, though Christianity and its principles keep being crowded out (see the resource below).

Like the Hippocratic Oath, though, our guideline as pastors, Christians, and even policy wonks and politicians should be to

“First, do no harm!”

Even when such a response brings the criticism that we are “not doing enough”!

Suggested Resource:

For more on Christianity and Health Care (and other topics) read:

How Christianity Changed The World


Image courtesy Wikipedia

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