C. The Her-Story of the Women of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

CRF theory embodies “[t]he use of narrative, chronicles, and storytelling. . . among the tools often used by CRF theorists.” Professor Montoya asserts that “[d]efining the voices of CRF means forming allies in the task of dismantling the barriers of race and gender and having those allies take CRF concepts and use them so that they mean something real for women of color themselves, our local communities, and future generations.” One must explore the CRF Critical Teaching Point of the use of narrative to acknowledge the existence of the women who were directly impacted by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, but who were marginalized during the study in 1932 and in its present day recounting. According to Critical Race Feminist Scholar, Adrien K. Wing, “narratives aid in exposing the reality of racism and validate the experiences of people of color.” As a critical teaching tool, “[t]he lens of CRF compels the storyteller [“teacher” ] to not only speak about “unspeakable” things, such as notions of race and racial construction, gender, and locations of power in the health care system - it also encourages the story listener [“student” ] to hear the silence of issues raised but not adequately addressed.” The fact *193 that history marginalizes or silences the particular experience of the women directly impacted in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study can be explored by extracting the “narrative behind the narrative,” a concept which challenges the world view of the historically accepted narrative by offering exposure to alternate social realities. The historically accepted narrative of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study generally focuses upon the government initiated untreated syphilis study on Black males from 1932-1972. An alternate social reality centers on the fact that syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that was unwittingly passed on to the wives and partners of the men in the study who were not selected as research subjects based upon their gender. This narrative behind the narrative sheds light on the autonomy (or lack thereof) of the women directly impacted as wives, as well as the presumed illegitimacy of relationships outside of the legal category of marriage.

It was not until 1975 that the wives, widows, and offspring were added to the Tuskegee Health Benefit Program, which granted lifetime medical benefits and burial services to all living participants pursuant to the out-of-court settlement filed on behalf of the study participants and their families in 1973. Therefore, Black women who were married to the male participants were not deemed worthy of treatment nor did they fit the all black male research protocol during the study's 40-year span. Likewise, the women directly impacted but not married to the male participants of the Study, and the children manifesting congenital syphilis but borne out of wedlock, were not recognized and thus did not receive a remedy for the harm resulting from the governmental experiment. Professor Martha Fineman states that “[i]n a diverse and secular society, it is impermissible for the state to privilege one form of sexual affiliation over others, and thus to make marriage the core connection in the institution of the family. By exploring the narrative behind the narrative of the women directly impacted by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and deconstructing the notion of *194 marriage and its presumed benefits, one can ultimately address why legal discrimination needs the concept of intersectionality (i.e. the interlocking oppressions affecting women, such as racism, sexism, heteropatriarchy, classism, agism, etc.) in order to serve as a CRF Critical Teaching Point.

Law and society have created and maintained a lack of space with regard to the Black women directly affected by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Law and society created constructs of “legitimate and illegitimate sexualities” expressed by Black women, as well as a normative standard concerning sexuality and marriage. There exists a narrative worth critically examining as to the different tropes of Black women that were affected by the Study, who have been similarly and dissimilarly marginalized in historical and contemporary discussion due to socio-legal constructs of “legitimate and illegitimate sexualities.” Holloway posits that “[i]t is certainly true that the field of bioethics might benefit from increased exposure to the categories of stories, theories of analysis, and the study of genre.” Specifically, there is a notion of married Black women embodying a “constructive presence” within law and society via their husbands, and single Black women embodying an “invisible presence” because of their lack of a husband. The interaction of law and society has made single, Black women essentially invisible to the point that the framing of their rights has either been severely limited, completely denied, or simply unacknowledged. Conversely, the interaction of law and society has made Black married women constructively present via their husbands. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study warrants a critical examination of the different life experiences of marginalization, even amongst Black women, based on marital status and presumptions of legitimacy (or the lack thereof). Thus, there exists a real need to critique the rights and remedies accrued or denied to Black women because of intersecting or multiple identities stemming from their race, gender, and marital status, both historically and presently.

Medical schools benefit from the integration of CRF theory into their curricula. The utilization of a transformative remedy that focuses on the *195 root causes for the historical and current omission of the women directly impacted by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study is enhanced through CRF Critical Teaching Points which advocate the use of deconstructive techniques and narrative.