Week 4 Blog

According to Tuskegee Universities website, the United States Public Health Service was given the task of identifying health trends in the United States and developing treatments for them sometime in the early 1900’s. It was during this time that the PHS began working with the Tuskegee institute on the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Negro Men.” This study sparked concern and outrage for a number of reasons and was eventually deemed ethically unjustified by an advisory panel that was created by the Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs for the purpose of investigating the study forty years after it began.

The study consisted of 600 African American men, 399 who were infected with syphilis and 201 who were not and although the investigation by the advisory panel did find that all men had willingly agreed to the study, they were not given enough information to be able to properly give informed consent to participate in the study. Besides lying by telling participants they would receive treatment, researchers also did not tell participants the name of the study, its purpose or the potential consequences of not receiving treatment. This, according to Tuskegee Universities website, was because scientists did not believe ordinary people, especially African Americans, could understand the process well enough to allow it to effect their decision to participate. Investigators found that many standards for doing scientific experiments on humans had been bypassed during the study that was supported by the PHS. It was also found that participants were not given penicillin when it became the main treatment for syphilis in 1947 (study didn’t end until 1972) and were not told they could quit the study to receive other treatment either.

In the United States, specifically in the early 20th century, African American people were not considered equal to other citizens. Because of this sense of superiority, African Americans faced many structural barrier and extreme inequality in almost every aspect of their life. These structural barriers affected their ability to buy housing, get jobs, and, as the Tuskegee study shows, get access to proper healthcare. Although this is not a case of brutal violence, it is a case in which members of a specific group (African American men) were put in danger on purpose by the government for a government study.

Link:

http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/centers_of_excellence/bioethics_center/about_the_usphs_syphilis_study.aspx

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