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The Tuskegee Study Essay

1978 words - 8 pages

President Clinton in 1997 apologized for the harm caused by what might be called as America’s most notorious medical experiments, ‘The Tuskegee Study’ saying “The legacy of the study at Tuskegee has reached far and deep, in ways that hurt our progress and divides our nation. We cannot be one America when a whole segment of our nation has no trust in America. An apology is the first step, and we take it with a commitment to rebuild that broken trust. We can begin by making sure there is never again another episode like this one. We need to do more to ensure that medical research practices are sound and ethical, and that researchers work more closely with communities.” (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013) This study could well be described as one of the most horrible medical scandals in the 20th century; a so-called “scientific” experiment which was an evidence of a race-based unethical medical practice. (Brandt, A.M., 1978)
The Tuskegee Study was carried in and around Tuskegee in Macon County, Alabama, from 1932 to 1972. The United States Public Health Service (USPHS) initiated the study to gather more information about the effects of untreated syphilis in African American males. The subjects comprised of 399 African American males who were presumably in the late stage of syphilis which was not contagious. These subjects only received some initial treatment after which they were kept on aspirin and iron tonic under the assurance of being treated. The study also consisted of 200 controls who were subjects without the disease. They, too, were cared for and administered similar medications. (Reverby, S.M., 2009)
The study began at a time when there was no known medication for syphilis. However, in 1947, even after penicillin was discovered as the most effective drug against syphilis, it was not administered to the subjects as the officials wanted to continue the study to examine the effects of syphilis on the subjects. In 1972, however, reports of the experiment were leaked into the press and the experiment was halted. This led to an outcry among the African American community. But by that time, many of the participants had died and many others had passed on the disease to their wives and children. (Reverby, S.M., 2009)
This study was a symbol of unethical conduct and racial discrimination in medicine primarily because of two reasons. First, the subjects were never told that they had syphilis and thus, informed consent did not play any role in this experiment. Secondly, the subjects were told that they were being treated for “bad blood”, a term used in the local language for various illnesses such as anemia and fatigue. In reality, however, the officials never treated the subjects for syphilis. The subjects were only provided free medical exams, free meals and burial insurance in return for their participation in the study. The only permission which was taken from the subjects was...

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