Sunday the New York Times published an obituary of an obscure doctor in Hawaii—Dr. Irwin Schatz. Here’s why:
Four years out of medical school, in 1962 he read an article in a medical journal about an experiment being conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service on 600 uneducated black men in Tuskegee, Alabama. About two-thirds of these men had syphilis. The study had been going on for 30 years, and while penicillin had been known as an effective treatment for the disease, it was never used to cure them. Indeed, none of them were ever told what they had.
The study deliberately withheld treatment in order to find out what eventually might happen to them.
Young Dr. Schatz was incensed. He wrote a letter to the study’s author to protest. It was never answered, and so far as is known, was the first and only objection to the study the U.S. agency received.
Ten years later, a health service whistle blower publicized the experiments and Dr. Schatz’s letter was found in their files. By that time, there had been many stories about the infamous and immoral experiments the Nazis had conducted on unknowing minorities during World War 2. Now the U.S. government found itself in a similar immoral position. The study ended.
Years later, the Mayo Clinic recognized Dr. Schatz’s stand with an award. A citation said “criticizing an investigation which was overseen by some of the leading figures in the American Public Health Service was an action that was…potentially harmful to his career.”
When Dr. Schatz got no response, he didn’t pursue the matter further..though years later he hinted in hindsight he should have objected more.
There are so many lessons here for us all..including the fact that our government can often conduct itself in illegal and immoral ways..and must be held to account. But perhaps the main lesson is that each of us must decide for ourselves when and whether to take a stand when we think something wrong is being done. It’s up to each one of us.
For I believe, with Martin Luther, who is reported to have said "One with God is a majority.”
I'm just sayin'...