Nobody knows how many people read the December 1964 issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, but apparently only one, Dr. Irwin Schatz, was so appalled by one of its articles, about a syphilis experiment using uneducated black men in Tuskegee, Ala., that he wrote the study’s author to protest.
“I couldn’t believe what I had read,” Dr. Schatz, who died on April 1, wrote in an email in 2013 to Civil Beat, an online newsletter in Hawaii, where he had moved to teach. “But the message was unmistakable.”
“These researchers had deliberately withheld treatment for this group of poor, uneducated, black sharecroppers,” he added, “in order to document what eventually might happen to them. I became incensed. How could physicians, who were trained first and foremost to do no harm, deliberately withhold curative treatment so they could understand the natural history of syphilis?”
In 1964, Dr. Schatz was just four years out of medical school and working as a cardiologist at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. No one ever responded to Dr. Schatz’s letter, written in 1965, but its discovery in 1972 helped frame a national debate over patients’ rights that generated new standards for research involving human subjects.