Eugenics; Syphilis; SOPA

By A. G. Moore January 16, 2012

Eunice_Rivers2 Laurie_(13270375914) free             
Nurse Eunice Rivers, Who  Recruited Poor Black Males From Her  Community To Participate In The Tuskegee  Syphilis Experiment

A North Carolina gubernatorial committee recommended this week that victims of the state’s long-running eugenics program be compensated for damages with a one-time payment of $50,000.  According to the Winston Salem Journal, which ran a five-part expose on the state’s forced sterilization policy, 7,600 individuals were subjected to the medical procedure over a period of approximately 70 years. The eugenics panel that oversaw the sterilizations was created by the North Carolina state legislature in 1933 and disbanded in 2003.

In the first of its five-article series, the Winston Salem Journal quotes a eugenics victim, a woman who was sterilized in 1945: “Let me go home,” she pleads when she is told what is to happen to her. “Have mercy on me and let me do that.”

The Journal reports that after the 1960’s, 99% of those sterilized were women and more than 60% were black. Virtually all were poor. Conspicuously absent from the gubernatorial committee’s recommendation is the suggestion that those responsible for the forced sterilization be held accountable. Nowhere is it suggested that criminal or civil penalties be assessed on any party who instigated or carried out these human rights violations—even though some doctors who sterilized victims did so before receiving authorization from the state.

In 1972 the New York Times ran a story about the U.S. Public Health Service.. The article revealed that the agency had been conducting research, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment,  in Alabama.  The ‘Experiment’ was long-term. It was carried out with the help of a nurse, Eunice Rivers, a local resident.  Nurse Rivers was a trusted member of the African American community. Rivers was enlisted to recruit poor black males in order to observe the progression of untreated syphilis. Over the years, as penicillin became available, patients were directed away from this cure so that their syphilis might progress undisturbed. The study “subjects” underwent tests (including spinal taps) and were told these procedures were performed as part of an effort to keep them healthy.

The Tuskegee Experiment began in 1932 and was concluded abruptly with the release of the Times report. Over the years, many study participants died of syphilis. Many infected their spouses. And several sired children who were born with congenital syphilis. In 1974 the U. S. government agreed to compensate survivors of the Tuskegee Experiment with a $37,000 cash payout.

This month, when the U. S. Congress reconvenes, the House Judiciary Committee will take up consideration of a bill called SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act), which was first introduced at the end of 2011. If passed as it now stands, SOPA would carry severe penalties for copyright infringement by any website–or any site that “facilitates” infringement. Among the stated penalties in the bill is a provision that repeat offenders be charged with a felony, one that would carry a jail term of five years. Promoters of SOPA include media heavy weights such as Viacom and the MPAA.

An example of a copyright infringement under SOPA could be something as simple as copying a picture without authorization. If done ten times, this act would subject the offender to the maximum charge and the five-year jail term.

Mmmmm…Let me see if I’ve got this right:

Five years in prison for copying a picture ten times without permission–but no criminal or civil liability for forcibly detaining and maiming 7,600 North Carolinians.

Appropriate someone’s words without their permission ten times and face a five-year felony conviction–but no criminal or civil liability for causing the suffering and death of perhaps hundreds of people, for causing both the infection of spouses and the birth of offspring who were afflicted with congenital syphilis.

My head spins. What kind of culture do I live in? Is it one that does not ask for an accounting from those who maim, destroy and kill but is willing to send a blogger to jail as a felon because of copyright infringement?

I wonder, what kind of culture contemplates such a skewed measure as SOPA, and yet tolerates aberrations of basic values as were demonstrated in North Carolina’s Eugenics program and the Public Health Service’s Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment?


Faces of Tuskegee  Michigan State University

Tuskegee Syphils Experiment:

Tuskegee Experiment:


North Carolina Eugenics Panel:

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