Unhealthy suspicion: A study reveals harsh attitudes toward medicine

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There was a time when the indifference of the American medical establishment toward the health of African Americans was as much a matter of policy as prejudice. The bitter taste of those days apparently still lingers in the memory of some and the imaginations of others.

The Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh released a study this week that says suspicions about clinical trials and medical research in the African-American community may be having a negative impact on black people's health.

According to the report, black parents are more likely than white parents to distrust medical research (67 percent to 50 percent) and more blacks than whites suspect doctors of experimenting on their children with risky medicines (40 percent to 28 percent). Almost 25 percent of black parents also believe, compared to 10 percent of whites, that doctors won't be honest regarding their child's participation in a medical study.

These are devastating numbers on attitudes that may account for some of the disparity in health care between whites and African Americans. Lack of education is behind much of the suspicion, but even those with college educations aren't immune to thinking the worst of the medical establishment. Knowledge of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments between 1932 and 1972, for instance, casts a long shadow.

Black parents owe it to their children, however, to become more sophisticated about how American medical policy evolved over the decades. The Tuskegee Experiment, in which black men with syphilis were left untreated, should not be used by African Americans to justify suspicions of medicine in the 21st century.

As doctors of all races strive to take the Hippocratic Oath seriously, it is the height of irresponsibility -- and superstition -- for black patients to act as if a medical conspiracy is anywhere other than in the past.



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