Fear Hinders Black Marrow Donation: Tuskegee Experiments' Legacy
Once bitten, twice shy, as they say.
In 1982, transplant surgeon Dr. Clive Callender and his colleagues sat down to took a look at African-American organ donation numbers, and they were grim.
While blacks represented about 12 percent of the U.S. population, they represented only about 3 percent of organ donors.
This was terrible news for African-Americans in need of an organ, who were much more likely to make a genetic match with another African-American donor.
Callender knew he had to try to change those numbers. And knew it would be a huge challenge. "People along the road said we wouldn't be successful," he said. "But I was well accustomed to adversity, to reaching for unreachable stars and impossible dreams."
So Callender and his team at Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., didn't listen. Instead, they went into African-American communities in their city to find out why the organ donation rates were so low.
Over and over, they heard the same reasons, including that African-Americans wouldn't sign organ donor cards because they didn't trust the U.S. medical system.
People in the community remembered the Tuskegee experiments, when doctors in Alabama purposely withheld treatment from poor African-American men with syphilis from 1932 to 1972.
Some blacks worried that by becoming organ donors they might unwillingly become a part of another medical experiment, or that white doctors would prematurely declare them dead in order to harvest their organs.