Ethical Issues in Tuskegee Experiment (Essay Example)

What are the ethical issues that emerged from the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment?


Three hundred ninety-nine African-American males participated in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, which lasted forty years and monitored the normal course of syphilis in them. The Tukegee Syphilis Experiment was conducted despite medical advances and the discovery of effective penicillin treatments for syphilis. Researchers involved in the study went to considerable lengths to ensure that participants were uninformed of a potentially life-saving intervention.

In response to the deceitful and manipulative character of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, there was widespread public outcry and legislative action to assure the preservation of human rights and to prevent future unethical actions in research involving human beings from occurring.

Despite the existence of stringent federal standards governing research ethics, underrepresentation of minorities in clinical research persists even forty years after the termination of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Several studies have suggested that the Tuskegee Syphilis Study’s mistreatment and unethical tactics may have engendered distrust in health-care providers, leading to an unwillingness to participate in clinical research. The ramifications of the Tuskegee Syphilis case contributed to the development of the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Code of Conduct (2002), as well as the present level of care expected of health-care providers who participate in clinical research.

Problem Statement/Thesis Statement

The Tuskegee Research violated fundamental bioethical precepts of respect for autonomy (people were not sufficiently informed in order to make independent decisions), nonmaleficence (those recruited were negatively affected/harmed because intervention was denied after it had become the treatment of choice), and justice (only black participants were recruited). The Tuskegee study, it was done in the concussion experiment, breached fundamental bioethical norms. It is imperative that big modifications be made to the how clinical experiments are done if they are fully understood and preventative techniques be thoroughly tried in order to reduce, if not eradicate.

Forcing Patients to Participate

A total of 600 African-American men from Macon County, Alabama, were recruited for the study by researchers from the Tuskegee Institute. Out of the 600, 399 had untreated syphilis that was in the latency stage. Participants were coerced into participating in the study by the researchers, who told them they had “bad blood,” which was a phrase used at the moment to characterize a variety of illnesses prevalent in the black community.

Deception in the Tuskegee Experiment with no informed consent

Additionally, in order to further persuade participants, researchers provided them with regular meals, complimentary transportation to and from the health center, and funeral stipends for their households. Furthermore, study directors hired Black doctors and nurses to gain and maintain the trust of all the study subjects throughout the duration of the research.

Informed Consent

According to the American Psychological Association, the guidelines required are indeed expectations that should be met by all health-care professionals who are assessing, treating, or conducting research on patient populations.

The criteria for full consent in research highlight the significance of revealing the study’s purpose, possible dangers, and anticipated duration to people participating in order for them to make informed choices about their participation in (APA, 2002). From a historical point of view, the American Psychological Association’s Code of Conduct did not contain a detailed list of guidelines, research ideals, and procedures at the moment of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

The value of informed consent, on the other hand, is paramount in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and it has an impact on the anticipations for patient care that exist and are relevant today.

Deception in Research

The Black subjects who participated in the Tuskegee were pretty much exclusively labourers who were underprivileged and illiterate, which raises ethical concerns about their ability to make good decisions due to favorable research incentive schemes or their inability to grasp the degree of their participation in this study, among other things. Researchers also referred to participants as having “bad blood” rather than trying to inform them of their exact medical condition when they were recruiting them. Inadequacy of informed consent, as evidenced by the lack of details given to participants about the essence of the study and alternative treatments, indicates that many people who participated in the Tuskegee Study suffered harm as a result of their participation.

ethical issues in the Tuskegee Experiment
Some of the men who participated in Tuskegee Study

Furthermore, there is still debate about how well-informed the participants were throughout the course of the study. People who participated in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study were aware of the study’s nature and were aware that they could withdraw at any time, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1972.

Dr. Williams, an intern who started working at the Tuskegee Institute during the study’s duration, on the other hand, claimed that both the interns and participants were not familiar with the goals of the study (Jones, 1993).

The varying stories point to the deceptive qualities of the study, which resulted in confusion among the participants and, as a result, a general distrust of healthcare practitioners that persists to this day.

Participants Denied Treatment

Although advances in medicine had occurred, along with the 1943 introduction of penicillin as an effective therapeutic option, entrants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study did not have access to life-saving treatments during their participation. Moreover, researchers deterred participants from being aware of viable alternative treatments by restricting medical health checks during the World War II draft, surveilling participants who visited other healthcare centers, and direct intervention against other healthcare practitioners who attempted to treat participants. More than 100 men who had syphilis died as a result of the study’s use of such drastic measures throughout the duration of the study (Corbie-Smith, 1999).

All across the timeframe of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, successive generations of scientists who conducted the study proceeded to justify their work on the basis of scientific principles and the ability to appreciate the biological disease progression, among other things. They defended their actions by claiming that researchers would never be able to replicate the size and scope of the data or obtain such a big number of untreated persons in a reasonable amount of time (Rothman, 1982). It is important to establish ethical boundaries when conducting research because the justifications presented by the researcher to keep mistreating patients highlight the importance of doing so.

It is important to acknowledge the inadequacies of treatment and research actions made by healthcare providers in the earlier days in order to influence the path of patient care in the present. The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, as well as numerous other ethically questionable research practices in our country’s medical or psychological history, such as eugenics and the mistreatment of mentally ill patients in asylums, have contributed to the development of ethical standards that are now expected of all health-care providers. The ethical problems committed all through the entirety of the Study have had an impact on the inclusion of many standards outlined in the American Psychological Association’s Code of Ethics, which pertain to patient care, therapeutic practice, and general research protocols, among other things.

Implications of the Tuskegee Experiment

Many important ethical issues surrounding human study subjects ought to be investigated in greater depth. When it comes to research ethics, the first major issue to consider is informed consent, which refers to providing potential research participants with as much information as possible about the research that could reasonably impact their intention to participate. It is still unclear how far researchers’ obligations extend to research subjects, and this is a major source of disagreement.

Another point of concern is the possibility that an individual will feel forced to agree or that he or she will not fully understand what it is that he or she is consenting to.

The researchers did take advantage of the participants’ disadvantaged economic standing, in which they had received inadequate levels of medical care.

The contacts were made with doctors and nurses, who were regarded as authoritative figures in their fields.