The Ethic of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study

Running head: THE TUSKEGEE SYPHILIS STUDY The Tuskegee Syphilis Study Thomas Shaw Grand Canyon University PHL 305 7/25/2010 Introduction The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was developed to study the affects of Syphilis on adult black males. The intention of the study was to find ways to improve the quality of health in African Americans in the southern states. While the treatment phase of the program was beginning, America fell into the great depression and the benefactor, The Julius Rosenwald Fund no longer had the funds for the treatment of the men.

What do you do with two hundred ninety-nine men with Syphilis that you can no longer or begin to treat? How does a society that is predominantly prejudice get African Americans to participate in such a study? Knowing their past service in helping the African Americans the PHS went to the Tuskegee Institute for help with the recruitment of participants. In return, the Institute received money and training for their staff positions.

It is extremely possible these “African Americans may not ever have seen a Doctor prior to the initial examination for the study” (Tuskegee University). Dr. Clark of the Public Health Services (PHS) was able to get the project approved. As the treatments were to begin the Great Depression hit the United States. This would affect the project because without the funding from Rosenwald there was not enough money to continue. Dr. Clark came up with the idea to study the effects of untreated Syphilis on living humans.

The PHS decided to adopt the suggestion and the study was then adapted to study the effects of untreated Syphilis. The entire experiment violated the beneficence principal because they did not meet the definition of this principal, “there is an obligation to protect persons from harm by maximizing anticipated benefits and minimizing possible risks of harm” (IRB Guidebook). The PHS should have told the participants (if that is what they were) about the disease the men contracted and that they were going to treat them, minimizing the possible risks.

In addition they could or should have told them why the study was so important, which would have maximized the benefit of the study. During WWII some of the participants were called for the draft and were ordered to undergo treatment for Syphilis. The PHS intervened and the draft board dropped the participants from the treatment roles. There was no respect for persons in these decisions. The IRB’s Principal for Respect was not adhered to, “recognition of the personal dignity and autonomy of the individuals” nor was there any special protection for those with diminished autonomy.

In 1973 a Congressional Committee lead by Senator Edward Kennedy which resulted in a complete and total re-write of Heath, Education and Welfare on working with Human subjects. “In the same year there was a $1. 8 billion dollar class action suit filed in the US District Court on behalf of the study participants” (Tuskegee University). In December of 1974 the government paid $10 million in an out of court settlement. Perhaps this was the justice which is required so the “benefits and burdens of research be distributed fairly. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study took place over a time period of almost fifty years.

During the investigation, John Heller, Director of the Venereal Disease unit for the PHS was interviewed, one of his comments was; “The men’s status did not warrant ethical debate. They were subjects, not patients; clinical material not people” (Tuskegee University). The way these men were treated and looked upon and perhaps if they were labeled “lab rats,” they may have had better attention to their disease. Conclusion It is clearly evident when the study began and for the longest stretch of time there were no documented principals on how to or the restriction of utilizing humans in experimental studies.

It is clear the IRB put the Principals for Ethical Research together so we the United States of America would have a guideline to test the affects of certain things on human beings. We must never forget that all humans have rights and must be protected against practices such as this. I also believe that the class action suit was warranted. We, have an obligation to treat human beings with respect, dignity and fairness. References Tuskegee University Research Ethics; The Tuskegee Syphilis Study Available www. tuskegee. edu/global/story. asp? s=1207598&ClientType=Printable Downloaded7/20/2010