Explain the meaning of structural violence by applying it to The Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

For 40 years, the US government has set up a grand experiment. Six hundred syphilis-infected black peasants from Alabama received a placebo and arsenic, although normal drugs already existed. The purpose of the experiment was not to cure the sick but to observe exactly how they died. There was no scientific benefit – just madness that lasted from the 30s to the 70s.

Tuskegee was a beggarly inhospitable hole in Alabama, so the locals jumped at the possibility of free medical care. Worst of all, the townspeople remained experimental rats infected with syphilis, even when a cure for it had already appeared in the rest of the world. They were deliberately isolated so that they could not get help from other doctors.

The doctors, led by Clark Taliaferro, promised everyone who wanted to take part in the experiment free travel, free treatment, and (and here it was already worth thinking about) a free place in the cemetery and a funeral. It is difficult to understand now how pure the thoughts of Clark Taliaferro were. It looks like he really wanted to help and was determined to find a cure for syphilis. But the researchers’ altruism could not stand the collision with reality.

The Great Depression ruined everything: the project was deprived of funding and had to be closed. Taliaferro was actually squeezed out of the leadership position, and his place was taken by Oliver Wenger, an assistant who turned out to be much more cynical and, in a bad sense, more forward-looking.

Thanks to his efforts, the experiment continued for a long 40 years. Only the whole essence of the work was turned upside down. The patients were given toxic drugs based on mercury, bismuth, and arsenic. Some, it seemed, even helped; some were killed; it only made it worse for most. The Tuskegee experiment lasted until 1972; for 30 years, local residents were kept in the dark about the fact that the whole world was already treating their ailment with the help of penicillin. They were given placebos in anticipation of how they would become autopsy material.

The experimenters simply wanted to find out if blacks die of syphilis in the same way as whites. It turned out that the symptoms and suffering were the same: a startling discovery that took 40 years and hundreds of human lives. During the experiment, 40 wives were infected by their husbands, and another 19 children were born with congenital syphilis. In other words, as a result of the experiment, there were only more patients.

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