Jan 25, 2018 in History

The Tuskegee Study

How does this study show the importance of informed consent?

The Tuskegee study was carried out between 1932 and 1972 with the objective of studying the history and natural progression of syphilis in African American men, all under the illusion of providing medical assistance. The study was conducted on human guinea pigs oblivious to the real intentions of the doctors. Deceiving the men into believing they were receiving treatment for “bad blood” as opposed to informing them of the true nature of the medical experiment was completely inhumane. Not revealing this information was a grave insult to human dignity. The men probably carried on believing they were getting well whereas they were actually getting worse from a condition they knew nothing of. I agree with Daniel Popiel’s position on the importance of seeking consent from study participants. Informed consent is an important part of research study, especially in situations that gravely affect the subjects’ entire lifestyle.    


What is your reaction to the withholding of penicillin from the study participants?

Withholding of penicillin by the Tuskegee researchers was an example of unethical practices conducted by medical practitioner in the past. The irony of the whole situation was that the study was conducted with the aim of offering treatment to the study participants. I comprehend the researchers’ thinking in restricting medical assistance in order to obtain results from their study, but was the losses of people’s lives really worth the medical research?

How important is it that these experimental subjects were poor and black?

At the time the experiments were conducted, the least educated and informed people were the African Americans. It was therefore very important for the study participants to be poor and black in order to facilitate unrestricted exploitation. If the participants were better informed, they would probably refuse to participate in the study. The black participants were largely from the South, a population that at the time was not exposed to information or relevant basic education. Additionally, the poor conditions of the participants enabled the researchers to exploit their need for free meals, free medical exams and burial insurance which they could not afford.  Indeed, the fact they were both black and poor had major significance on their participation in the study.

Does this case undermine your trust in clinical research? Do you think this sort of abuse might still happen today?

Although the Tuskegee abuse was a major drawback in clinical and ethical research standards, the negative practices demonstrated has not undermined my confidence in research today. This is because the rules, regulations and standards have greatly improved over the last 80 years, with public opinion and political correctness having significant influence on major public interest issues. Additionally, stringent rules on consent have been established in the medical practices field. Therefore, I believe the sort of abuse carried out in Tuskegee would most probably not happen in today’s world.


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