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J Med Humanit. 2008 Jun;29(2):89-109. doi: 10.1007/s10912-008-9053-5.

Narrative constructions of health care issues and policies: the case of President Clinton's apology-by-proxy for the Tuskegee syphilis experiment.

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  • 1Department of Communication, Missouri State University, 90 South National Avenue, Springfield, MO 65897, USA. hc200403@ohio.edu


The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (TSE) has shaped African Americans' views of the American health care system, contributing to a reluctance to participate in biomedical research and a suspicion of the medical system. This essay examines public discourses surrounding President Clinton's attempt to restore African Americans' trust by apologizing for the TSE. Through a narrative reading, we illustrate the failure of this text as an attempt to reconcile the United States Public Health Service and the African American public. We conclude by noting the limitations of rhetoric when equal prominence is not given to policy proposals in national apologies.

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