Ethics in Research
Research is a systematic, formal rigorous and precise process employed to gain solutions to the problems and/or to discover and interpret new facts and relationships (Waltz and Bausell, 1981). Each and every ethical standard related to the research should be followed. But, The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is one of the best examples of research done with violation of basic ethical principles of conduct. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment was a clinical trial done on human beings between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama, by the U.S. Public Health Service. They were doing research related to the natural progression of the disease syphilis. The forty years long study, while the initial goal was to follow the route of untreated Syphilis for 6 to 9 months, followed by treatment of participant group, was controversial for many reasons related to ethical standards.
The study was conducted on 399 African-American sharecroppers with syphilis. Researchers did not inform them about the study or its real purpose. Instead, the men had been misguided that they were being treated for “bad blood”. There was no evidence that Researcher has given all the facts required to provide informed consent. The fact that finally autopsies would be required, was also concealed. The researchers did not inform the participants regarding the purpose, expected duration and procedures of the research. They also did not explained the participants regarding their rights to withdraw from the study, once the participation has begun. Adequate Debriefing
The groups selected for study were primarily poor, illiterate share croppers. Most of them had hardly ever seen a doctor before. They were unaware of their syphilis infection. They were told that they will receive the treatment for their “bad blood”. So, poor share croppers thought that doctor will save them from their illness. The researcher never told the participants regarding the real nature, results, and conclusions of the study. The participants were never given any information regarding the seriousness of their syphilis infection. The doctors had no further interest in these patients until they die because the data for the experiment was to be collected from the autopsies of the men. The participants were deliberately left to deteriorate under the complications of tertiary syphilis-which include tumors, heart diseases, neural degeneration, paralysis, insanity, and ultimately death. Protection from Harm
The study participants received medical examinations, but they were either not treated or were treated with very low doses of medicines that was found to be insufficient to cure the disease. During the study, PHS officials denied treatment for study participants. They also prevented other agencies to give treatment to the affected group. Even after Penicillin was discovered by the World War II and widely used to treat the cases of syphilis, the participant were protected from receiving the treatment by the request of PHS officials to the draft boards. In 1952, the PHS took help of local health departments to follow the participants who had left the Macon County, and till the end of the study in 1970, local health department also helped PHS, so that the study subjects were kept out of receiving the treatment.
Deception in Research
Researchers deceive prospective participant groups about the experiment which had caused physical pain and severe emotional distress. The aftermath of the study was very dangerous. By the end of the experiment, 28 of the men had died directly of the syphilis, 100 were dead of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected, and 19 of their children had been born with congenital syphilis (Borgna Brunner, The Tuskegee syphilis Experiment). In addition, the mistrust for public health institutions within the African American community can be seen today due to the fear generated by the aftermaths of the Tuskegee...
References: American Psychological Association. (1992). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of
Gray, Fred D. (1998). The Tuskegee Syphilis Study: the real story and beyond Tuskegee
Institute, The Study revealed, ch.5, pg.74
Jones, J. (1981). Bad blood: The Tuskegee syphilis experiment - A tragedy of race and medicine
(NY: The Free Press)
NIH GUIDE, Volume 23, Number 11, March 18, 1994
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