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The Tuskegee Experiment is one of the most morally abusive studies in American history. The full name of the study conducted by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) is “The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in Black Men” and it was done on a group of about 600 people. African-Americans with syphilis.
On paper, the experiment included X-rays, blood tests, autopsies, and scans of the subjects’ spines, as researchers sought to deepen their understanding of the disease. However, the experiment will not treat syphilis but will instead be allowed to monitor the progression of the disease in subjects.
When research was started in 1932, syphilis was still a disease with no cure. The disease is highly contagious, starting with minor symptoms, such as swelling near the groin. From there, the disease often progresses at a rapid rate, leading to chronic fatigue, weight loss, hair loss, and even death.
To better understand this disease, the Tuskegee Institute and USPHS decided to conduct a study in Macon County, Georgia. To attract applicants to the experiment, they promised to provide free medical care to the participants.
Of the 600 African-American men recruited, 399 had the condition, while the remaining 201 men served as the study’s control group. The main purpose of the study is to understand the history of people with the disease and to observe the effects when the disease is left untreated.
The study aims to document the complete progression of the disease in an individual’s body and its effects. However, the subjects of the study were not aware of the truth and the promise of treatment was a lie.
The participants were never told that the study was actually an experiment to better understand this venereal disease. Instead, they were told they would be treated to remove the bad blood and receive free medical care. Subjects were told that the treatment would take place over a period of six months, and believed it would cure them of their illness.
This deception was perpetuated throughout the early stages of the study, and in 1933 the Tuskegee experiment researchers decided to extend the experiment over a longer period. To continue to pretend treatment, they gave patients some drugs that had no effect on syphilis in order to deceive the volunteers participating in the experiment.
However, patients began to have doubts about the treatments they were being offered, and many stopped participating in the trials. To encourage patients and convince them to continue participating in the study, volunteers were offered better meals as well as certain services and medications. At the height of the Great Recession – economic hardship, not enough food, not enough clothing, many people found these offers too tempting to resist, so they turned around and continued to participate. into the experiment.
Accordingly, Eunice Rivers, a nurse, was also employed by USPHS to manage palliative care for patients. The study’s organizers also began to cover funeral expenses for the patients, as this allowed them to conduct autopsies of test subjects as part of the study.
In some cases, researchers have refused to treat the disease without the patient’s knowledge or consent. A list was even provided to doctors in Macon County in 1934 of patients who might seek their help, and doctors were instructed to refuse treatment to the fullest extent. Both are for research purposes.
This has been going on for many years. In 1940, the Alabama Department of Health was also given a list of patients and asked not to treat them. In 1941, the medical entrance examination detected syphilis in some of the supposedly healthy applicants. The men were denied both participation in the experiment and treatment by the research team.
Slowly the true motives of the Tuskegee experiment began to be revealed. Instead of observing and recording the effectiveness of the treatment, the researchers lied to the participants and observed the uncontrolled progression of the disease in the individuals’ bodies.
By 1947, penicillin had become a standard treatment for syphilis. This prompted the USHPS to open several Rapid Treatment Centers to treat people with syphilis using penicillin.
However, the Tuskegee trial continued, and 399 participants who could easily have been treated with penicillin were denied appropriate treatment. Many of these patients actually had worse symptoms, but believed they had been treated safely and began to pass the infection on to their sexual partners.
After this secret was revealed, the federal government had to compensate the patient’s family. Specifically, they will receive medical care from the government for the rest of their lives.
It was only in 1972 that the truth behind the Tuskegee study was finally revealed when Peter Buxtun disclosed information regarding the study to the New York Times. On November 16, the article was published on the front page.
This eventually ended the Tuskegee study. However, by the time the truth was revealed, only 74 of the study participants were still alive. 128 patients died from worsening symptoms of syphilis or from complications of the disease.
The revelation of the heinous nature of the test led to public outrage and a lawsuit was filed with the USPHS. The subjects’ families have been compensated.
Tuskegee’s research is truly one of the most unethical studies conducted in history. Black men were targeted, bribed and then left to die while believing they were being treated. Therapeutic advances such as penicillin were ignored for further study.
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