The Tuskegee Experiment

Topics: Syphilis, Federal government of the United States, Sexually transmitted disease Pages: 6 (2075 words) Published: April 26, 2011
In 1932, in the area surrounding the Tuskegee, Macon County, Alabama, the U.S. Public Health Service created a government funded study to be conducted on 600 African American men that were lured in with the promise of free health care. What this study consisted of was testing these men for the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. After the testing was completed 399 infected and 201 healthy men were not told anything except that they had a condition called “bad blood” and that they must continue to come and receive treatment. In the early 1930s there was no definite cure for the disease so the study was supposed to treat the men with remedies until a cure could be found; instead funding ran out and treatment could no longer be provided . Even though there was no money coming in to pay for treatment for the men, the study was continued so that instead the effects of this deadly disease when it remains untreated could be studied. “The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is one of the most horrendous examples of research carried out in disregard of basic ethical principles of conduct. The publicity surrounding the study was one of the major influences leading to the codification of protection for human subjects.” (Jones, 1981) What these men went through over the 40 years of study can be labeled as one of the grossest injustices known to mankind.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by bacteria called Treponema pallidum; which is passed from person to person through unprotected sexual contact with any part of the body, the signs and symptoms of syphilis are very similar to that of other diseases or often times unnoticeable which causes it to be incorrectly diagnosed or go untreated for year. When symptoms are found in the primary stages they are in the form of a single sore, also called a chancre, which is easily treated by the medicine penicillin, as the stages progress a rough skin rash red in color will start to appear. Other symptoms include fever, sore throat, swollen lymph glands, hair and weight loss, and muscle aches, all of which disappear with or without treatment. What remains however, is the infection within the body spreading to the most important internal organs as time passes. This disease is difficult to catch because it can remain dormant in the body for years before attacking the blood, liver, bones, brain, and nervous system aggressively. When it is too late for treatment the symptoms include delayed motor skills, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, dementia and eventually death. Syphilis is a dangerous disease that is not only passed from person to person but also from mother to unborn child. Infected mothers can have miscarriages, stillborn births, or have a child prone to seizures and eventual death.

The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) initiated this study after they conducted a study at the Delta Pine and Land Company of Mississippi where they found roughly 25% of a population of over 2000 employees to be infected with syphilis. When the experiment began it was only Macon County; due to the lack of willing participants the study was extended to four other counties in Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee which lead to the final count of 600 men. The PHS and a private charity organization funded the study in order to treat the men and slow down the rapidly spreading disease. Unfortunately the Great Depression began not long after the start of the study and so there was soon no money to support the treatment of so many men. Instead of ending the study members of the PHS became curious about the differences of affects on Caucasian Americans verses African Americans; they decided to continue the study for the sake of mankind.

The Public Health Service went to the Tuskegee Institute in the hopes of receiving support in convincing the men to remain in the study. Tuskegee had a long record of serving the African American community the PHS believed that the men would remain in the study...
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