Tuskegee Syphilis Study Ethical Issues

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The Ethical Issues of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study The Tuskegee Syphilis Study conducted by the U.S Public Health Service (PHS) from 1932 to 1972, involved research in the effects of untreated syphilis in African-American men in Macon County, Alabama. The experiment consisted of 399 syphilitic men in the late stages of the disease, as well as 201 uninfected men who served as controls (Brandt, 1978). In addition to this, most of the men participating in the study were illiterate sharecroppers whose lack of education were propitious for the PHS, as it would ensure that their subjects had full co-operation. However, this meant that the men were never fully informed of the disease they were suffering from, nor the severe implications it would have…show more content…
This is shown through the statement “oh, we didn’t hurt anybody,” which was uttered by one of the doctors involved in the Tuskegee Syphilis project. Dr. Vanessa Gamble, a historian of medicine begs to differ, “in many ways, these men’s lives didn’t count…and they were in many ways expendable. Bad blood was a euphemism; it could’ve meant syphilis, it could’ve meant tired blood. So that bad blood meant lots of different things; it was not what one would call a very concise term” (The Deadly Deception, 1993). She then goes on to say, “the men were told that the spinal taps were a treatment. And these were physicians saying this so that it has a certain power and authority. That shows you some of the deception and deceit involved in the study. This was not some mad scientist in the basement doing this…people did not raise issues about it because they didn’t see anything wrong with it. The medical profession did not see anything wrong with it” (The Deadly Deception, 1993). A spinal tap is a painful process used to collect cerebrospinal fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. As Gamble mentioned above, concealing the true nature of this procedure indicates that the PHS had no real concern for the health of the subjects or that they were intentionally deceived through medical misconduct. Therefore, the statement “oh, we didn’t hurt anybody,” is…show more content…
The subjects were not given the autonomy to make an informed choice and were used for “good intentions” against their own will. The PHS also went to lengths to withhold crucial information regarding the experiment and used the deception of free health care to coerce the subjects into participating. Withholding life-sustaining treatment options to the subjects without their consent is ethically unacceptable and leads to an unwanted fatality rate. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study had a death toll of 128 - where 28 of the men died of syphilis and the rest died of related complications (Landau, 2015). As a result of the experiment, many of the subjects’ wives also contracted the disease and passed it on to their offspring. Dr. Taliaferro Clark, a senior officer of the PHS directly approved the deceptive methods of the study and regarded the subjects as, “very, very ignorant” individuals who were, “easily influenced by things that would be of minor significance to a more intelligent group “(Snowden, 2015). Therefore ethically, this study was constituted as one of the most shameful acts in the history of America (TheFreeDictionary.com,

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