Abstract The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is one of the most horrendous examples of research carried out in disregarding basic ethical principles. The Tuskegee experiment was a forty year study conducted in Tuskegee, Alabama. The study was conducted on a group of three hundred ninety-nine poor and illiterate African American men. The disease, Syphilis, was not revealed to the African-American patients by the United States Government. The patients were not informed they were receiving treatment for bad blood. The Tuskegee Study symbolized medical and disregard for human life.
During this era, medical ethics were not prevalent. Conflicts between Research and Ethics Paper The Tuskegee Syphilis Study remains one of the most outrageous examples of disregard regarding basic ethical principles and violated ethical standards related to research. During this era, African American men were considered subjects, not patients. In 1976, James Jones, historian, interviewed John Heller, Director of the Venereal Diseases Unit of the Public Health Service from 1943 to 1948, and Heller stated the following: “The men’s status did not warrant ethical debate.
They were subjects, not patients; clinical material, not sick people” (Tuskegee University, 2003). During this era, the level of medical treatment was toxic, dangerous and often questionable in respect to the effect on others. Researchers attempted to prolong treatment in order to study the different stages of Syphilis. All patients were kept in the dark about the disease that infected their bodies with. After treatments, the patients suffered from tumors, heart disease, paralysis, and insanity; whereas, they lacked the resources to obtain treatment for their illnesses.
The Tuskegee experiment was identified as ‘the longest non-therapeutic experiment on human beings in medical history’ (Tuskegee University, 2003). Failures to obtain consent from the patients were a failure of the physicians and conducting the research. The three hundred ninety-nine African Americans subjects were treated like lab rats. The patients were provided free physicals, transportation, and medication for their ailments, and hot meals on examination days. Also, survivors were paid $50,000 for burial expenses. Failure to obtain medical consent indicated that the Public Health Service octors were performing immoral and unethical study on human beings with total lack of human rights and life. Most of these individuals in the study had no idea that their rights were being violated. The Tuskegee Experiment lasted for many years (CDC, 2009). The Tuskegee Experiment occurred over a forty years period. Many men died; wives and their children became infected due to the unethical regard for conducting medical research (CDC, 2009). The Tuskegee Experiment name derived from the Tuskegee Institute which was an African-American university founded by Booker T. Washington.
The affiliated hospital located at Tuskegee Institute provided the Public Health Service the medical facility to use in order to conduct the studies. African-American doctors and nurses conducted research on African-American participants. The Tuskegee Experiment studied how syphilis affected African-Americans opposed to Caucasians. The research concluded that Caucasians experienced more neurological complications and African-Americans were more susceptible to cardiovascular damage. It is still unknown how this the Tuskegee Experiment changed treatment is still uncertain.
For the participating faculty and the individuals affiliated with the experiment were given educational advantages to study a disease not yet explored in order to help doctors advance studies and research. Nurses during this period were taught never to diagnose, prescribe, and always follow instructions from doctors. The Tuskegee Study can be compared in a sense to the human medical experiments done outside of Nazi Germany. This study involved similar degradation of human dignity, and the in-human medical experimentation done on human life. All of Tuskegee Study was performed on the Africa- Americans.
Through the efforts of Jean Heller, the American Public was informed of these studies and the wrong in which the Public Health Service officials conducted against African-America men. Under a closer examination by the press, the Public Health Service could not provide a formal protocol for these experiments and research because they never existed. By the time these studies were released, hundreds of infected African-American men died, others were still suffering syphilis related conditions. By 1946, penicillin was a known treatment for this Syphilis, but many African-American men died.
In 1973, a prominent civil rights lawyer, Fred Gray, filed a lawsuit against the institution and people involved in these studies (CDC, 2009). The case never entered a courtroom. The government agreed to settle out of court for ten million. No apologies or remorse was ever shown by the Public Health Service Officers. In fact, the Officers felt betrayed by the Government for failing to defend the Tuskegee Study. Because of the fallout from the Tuskegee Study, in 1979 the Belmont Report was released and the Office for Human Research was established.
The Tuskegee Study led to federal regulations, requiring institution review boards for the sole purpose of protecting human subjects in studies involving humans (Gray, 1998). This is managed by the Office of Human Research Protection within the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Individuals in management positions knew their potential responsibilities while conducting the research related to the Tuskegee Study. These individuals in manager positions gained their titles from education and following policies, procedures and laws.
I am unaware of what the laws were back then, but I am sure what these individuals were doing broke many laws and policies. These individuals running this study surely showed signs of discrimination toward sex and race of many individuals taking part in this study. Besides criminal laws there are concerns pertaining to what was ethically right within the profession and with human lives. When these managers took on their professional license whether, it is a doctor, nurse or scientist he or she agreed to do what was ethically right to all human beings within their practice.
Each of these positions has a clinical practice they need to uphold that provide proper care to individuals and this was not being done during this study. I know of a few areas that could have been done differently to make the experiment/research successful without losing the lives of many. This all could have been done within the guidelines that are ethical. After reading through the articles on the Tuskegee study, I would have done things much differently if I was in a management position. Many of the things that went on were done unethically and violate many of the participants’ human rights.
The individuals running the experiment could have accomplished better results if they would have followed guidelines and laws. The outcome of this experiment could have saved many lives instead so many deceased. The first thing that I would done differently is provided all the participants with detailed information about the study including test, medications, side effects, and complications that could arise. Those people who chose to participate in the study would then have an understanding of what is going to happen throughout the experiment and have a choice if they want to participate.
Once the individuals decide if they want to participate a written consent form will be signed that the individual has an understanding of the experiment and wishes to participate. A copy of this will be given to the participant and the original will be in a file folder with all that individuals’ information. Throughout the experiment these individuals will go through testing, labs and be prescribed medication that they will have a complete understanding of each step and their progress will be monitored.
If complications arise the individual can get detailed information pertaining to what is happening and have a choice if he or she wants to continue or not. The participants will receive what was an outline in the original information provided to them. If a situation should arise and something cannot be performed, they have a right to know. If for some reason the nurses feel the experiment is not going as the outline specifies and participates are having more complications than they thought, the experiment will be stopped and reported to The Health Board.
References: Tuskegee University. (2003). Research Ethics: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Retrieved July 18, 2010. From www. tuskegee. edu CDC (2009). Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Retrieved July 18, 2010 from www. cdc. gov/Tuskegee/timeline Gray, Fred D. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Montgomery. New South Book (1998). Retrieved July 18, 2010 www. tuskegee. edu/bioethics NPR: Remembering the Tuskegee Experiment. Retrieved July 18, 2010. From www. npr. org