For four decades, 400 African American men from Macon, Alabama were unwitting participants in a government study of untreated syphilis. NOVA tells the story of this notorious human experiment. George Strait, ABC News Medical Correspondent, hosts.
Original broadcast date: 01/26/93
Written, Produced and Directed by Denise DiAnni - WGBH Boston, 1993
From the University of Tuskegee website:
"For forty years between 1932 and 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) conducted an experiment on 399 black men in the late stages of syphilis. These men, for the most part illiterate sharecroppers from one of the poorest counties in Alabama, were never told what disease they were suffering from or of its seriousness.
Informed that they were being treated for “bad blood,” their doctors had no intention of curing them of syphilis at all. The data for the experiment was to be collected from autopsies of the men, and they were thus deliberately left to degenerate under the ravages of tertiary syphilis—which can include tumors, heart disease, paralysis, blindness, insanity, and death. “As I see it,” one of the doctors involved explained, “we have no further interest in these patients until they die.” (Syphilis is treatable with antibiotics)
This program, hosted by CBS News correspondent Richard Schlesinger, includes an interview with one of the last surviving participants, Herman Shaw; explains the role of Nurse Rivers; and presents the medical establishment's justification for disguising racism as legitimate medical research."
A nearly extinct relic of Nova's earlier, more journalistically daring days, (well before ExxonMobile became a main underwriter), The Deadly Deception was once a documentary screened in high schools throughout the country. It may be still, although its internet presence is certainly not consistent with that of an important educational film.
The title is unlisted at the WGBH website (the sales outlet for all Nova productions). Upon navigating to the "Archive" link on the Nova main page one discovers that only episodes aired from 1996-present have been cataloged. Browsing alphabetically under 'D' or 'T' is equally fruitless. The only reference to the film anywhere within the entirety of PBS' webspace is inside an un-linked alternate archive, which begins with the notice:
"Please note that these listings are provided for informational purposes only; very few of these programs are available for purchase on video. Those that are can be found at the NOVA section of Shop WGBH."
A Chicago public television station, WTTW 11, came under criticism when they refused to air the documentary. The Coalition for Democracy in Public Television cited an obvious conflict of interest between the station's programming department and "major channel 11 contributor General Electric," one of many powerful entities implicated in in the Tuskegee experiment. The allegations of network bias in favor of corporate funders were categorically denied by the station but the documentary was never aired.