The Tuskegee experiment

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The Tuskegee experiment pertained to the assessment of untreated syphilis concerned the black male and took place between 1932 and 1972. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United States Public Health Service conducted the experiment. The experiment was done on a group of four hundred people of African American men that had syphilis. Syphilis had been a menace at the time. This was why the experiment was of the essence so that accurate information that could inform scientific decisions in dealing with syphilis. The purpose of the essay is to analyze the Tuskegee experiment in terms of goal, procedure, and ethical concerns from the perspective of medical ethics.

Goal and Procedure

At the beginning of the experiment, the objective was to realize the effects of the syphilis disease once it was left untreated. At the end of the experiment, the medical advancements realized that the disease was treatable. The research subjects were not informed about the chronological flow of events, including how the experiment would be conducted, which resulted in the death of one hundred group members (Thomas & Quinn, 2020). The Tuskegee University, in conjunction with The Public Health Service (PHS), began the research in 1932 that incorporated six hundred African Americans from Macon County in Alabama. Of the number, three hundred and ninety-nine had early syphilis, and two hundred and one acted as the control group not infected. The group was motivated by the free medical care that acted as an incentive for the experiment. The mental and medical care the experimental group received was not mandatory and was only meant for them to accept joining the experiment. At the same time, the PHS was deceptive as they did not disclose the syphilis diagnosis. They realized instead that they took advantage of them by making them go through health procedures that were not effective.

Additionally, the organization faked placebos and diagnostic procedures. The main research method used in the experiment was a longitudinal observational study (Rusert, 2020). That means that the researchers took their time to observe the effects of syphilis on the infected members, but how they deceived the subjects was unethical and uncalled for. The men were told that the study could only take half a year, but this was not the case, as the study took forty years. The financial resources were lost. The experiment continued without telling the subjects that they would never heal from the disease. The procedure was ineffective as the men suffering from syphilis were given penicillin, and at the time, the antibiotic was easily accessible and was the ideal treatment for the disease (Park, 2017). The goal at the beginning was straightforwards and positive, but the procedure through the years was ineffective, deceptive, and substandard. By the time the experimentation was concluded, 28 men had died, and 100 others succumbed to complications due to syphilis. The external effects were felt as the wives of the men in the study suffered from syphilis, and statistically, 40 wives had syphilis. Children born at 19 suffered from a congenital type of syphilis.

Ethical Issues Of The Experiment (Medical)

Medically the researchers that were doctors violated the principles of autonomy. Autonomy is the patient’s right to choose whether or not they want to participate in the research. After the researchers lied to the men that the experiment was taking six months, they did not later disclose that the time was extended to forty years so that they could renew their agreement and ascertain whether they wanted to participate in the research (Miranda & Sanchez, 2021). This was unethical. The patients had the right to know they were a part of a research procedure that would take forty years.

The deception resulted in distrust between the United States government, the department of science, and the African American people (Miranda & Sanchez, 2021). The experiment was in violation of the principle of beneficence that details the best interests of the patient, but this was not the case with the experiment as the researchers deliberately denied the patients penicillin, which was an antibiotic being used at the time to treat syphilis; instead, they exposed then to other scientific ineffective procedures till their death. This was extremely unethical. Non-maleficence is another medical principle detailing that the doctors should not be the cause of harm to the patient. Unfortunately, the research caused harm to the men who decided to sign up to the black community, as the research was based on racism (Lee, 2019). The general assertion was that the African Americans had sexual intercourse with syphilis-suffering patients. This is racist and unethical for the researchers to base the experiment on racism. The lack of information made the experiment subjects sign into research they did not know was motivated by racism and purely taking advantage. From a general perspective, informed consent was not thoroughly explored, and the researchers did what they felt was right, which was unethical from a medical dimension.


In conclusion, the Tuskegee experiment was a complete failure right from the beginning. Despite the assumptions that they wanted to realize the effects of syphilis by using the subjects, the objective was guided by racism reasons and spite. The fatal consequence was deaths caused by the disease, yet penicillin could be used to treat the disease but was not administered at the time. How inefficient! The deaths of African Americans portrayed the unprofessionalism and ineffectiveness of medical health research. The Tuskegee experiment was unethical and shocking.

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  1. Lee, S. (2019). The Ethical Implications of Stratifying by Race in Pharmacogenomics. Clinical Pharmacology &Amp; Therapeutics, 81(1), 122-125.
  2. Miranda, D., & Sanchez, D. (2021). The Tuskegee Experiment: An Introduction in Ethics for Pre-Healthcare Professional Students. Journal Of Microbiology &Amp; Biology Education, 15(2), 232-234.
  3. PARK, J. (2017). Historical Origins of the Tuskegee Experiment: The Dilemma of Public Health in the United States. Korean Journal Of Medical History, 26(3), 545-578.
  4. Rusert, B. (2020). “A Study in Nature”: The Tuskegee Experiments and the New South Plantation. Journal Of Medical Humanities, 30(3), 155-171.
  5. Thomas, S., & Quinn, S. (2020). The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 1932 to 1972: implications for HIV education and AIDS risk education programs in the black community. American Journal Of Public Health, 81(11), 1498-1505.
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