Thirty-nine years ago this July, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
the first serious legislation of its kind in a century. The '64 measure made
illegal what were then commonly known as "Jim Crow" practices—refusing
to serve people of color in white-owned restaurants, hotels, barber shops, bowling
alleys, and other public facilities. Most Americans greeted passage of the act
joyfully, believing that racism had been abolished in this country. But subtler
forms of it lingered on.
The most unspeakable form of all was in medicine. In 1932 the U.S. Public Health
Service launched a now infamous experiment—the "Tuskegee Study"—in
which reputable medical researchers followed the course of untreated syphilis
on 399 black men—without telling the men they had the disease. Not until
1972, when articles about the Tuskegee Study began to turn up in the press,
did the government stop it.
In "Prejudice and the Medical Profession" (p. 12), Fr. Peter A. Clark,
SJ, PhD, mentions the Tuskegee Study as a particularly horrible example of racial
and ethnic discrimination in U.S. health care. But that disgrace (and others
like it) he offers mainly as background for his main contention: that health
care racism—often unrecognized by the very people who practice it and,
therefore, as untreated as the Tuskegee Study's syphilis—persists
"Racism in health care is an issue that should concern everyone in the
field," notes Fr. Clark. "But it should especially concern people
in the Catholic health ministry, because it is directly related to the Ethical
and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, particularly
to Directives 2, 3, and 23."
Copyright © 2003 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
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