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Ethical Analysis of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study failed to take into account several critical ethical considerations, consequently raising severe ethical issues. This essay examines some of the ethical problems linked to the investigation. The first major moral issue with the Tuskegee investigations is the lack of respect for persons. Researchers conducting human studies are expected to acknowledge and respect the autonomy of their subjects and protect those who exhibit diminished autonomy (Tauri, 2018). Researchers can demonstrate this ethical consideration by obtaining informed consent from participants (Morris & Morris, 2016). The Tuskegee researchers allowed subjects to participate in the investigation without a deeper understanding of the possible benefits and risks involved. Tauri (2018) explains that people can make informed decisions to take part in an inquiry voluntarily only if they have full knowledge of the potential risks and benefits associated with the participation. The Scripture says: “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise” (King James Bible, 1769/2017, Philippians 4:8). Concealing details about the research procedures and possible harm imply that participants were not adequately informed, and, thus, they did not consent voluntarily.

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Second, the researchers did not adhere to the ethical principle of beneficence. Human studies are required to protect the health and wellbeing of their participants by ensuring that procedures followed during the investigation do not expose them to any harm or discomfort (Capraro et al., 2019). According to this consideration, researchers have a professional responsibility to reduce any possible danger to the minimum and make sure that their findings benefit individual participants and society at large (Resnik, 2019). The Tuskegee experiments contradicted this ethical principle by infecting the subjects with the syphilis virus, which exposed them to unprecedented harm. Some patients were deliberately discouraged from using penicillin, and local physicians were directed to stop treating them with the drug until they succumbed to the disease (Cuerda & López-Muñoz, 2013, p.2). This issue constitutes a gross ethical breach, considering the confirmed effectiveness of penicillin in treating the illness.

Third, the researchers failed to demonstrate respect for anonymity and confidentiality. Researchers have an ethical and legal responsibility to respect any information they obtain in confidence from the participants (Dimitrios & Antigoni, 2018). They are also expected to adhere to relevant guidelines for safeguarding sensitive personal data, such as patient records (Resnik, 2018). The Tuskegee experiments violated this ethical consideration by disclosing the identity of some participants. A related problem with these investigations was a breach of participants’ right to privacy. Cuerda and López-Muñoz (2013) observed that the experiments were not carried out in secret because numerous manuscripts were published in 1934 and 1936. Clinical data which were captured during the study were also disclosed during the experiments. The mishandling of patients’ data is an invasion of the participants’ privacy.

Fourth, the investigators demonstrated a lack of honesty and integrity throughout the experiments. According to this ethical standard, researchers are expected to report the findings of their studies honestly and transparently (Resnik, 2018). Resnik (2018) explains that this moral consideration applies to the research methodology, data, and findings. It is unethical to falsify any data or publish any misleading information.

Finally, the study was unethical to African Americans as it failed to protect them despite being a vulnerable population. The participation of the 600 impoverished sharecroppers raises ethical questions. Mainly, this group could not give informed consent due to poor economic conditions. The researchers had a moral duty to protect them and be sensitive to their special needs, which exposed them to a greater risk of deceit, threats, and coercion.

References

Capraro, V., Everett, J. A., & Earp, B. D. (2019). Priming intuition disfavors instrumental harm but not impartial beneficence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 83, 142-149.

Cuerda, E., & López-Muñoz, F. (2013). Ethical considerations of the human research: Syphilis experiments and denial of drug therapy. Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology, 3(4), 1-4. Web.

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Dimitrios, T., & Antigoni, F. (2018). Ethics and deontology in nursing research: A discussion paper. International Journal of Caring Sciences, 11(3), 1982-1989.

Morris, M. C., & Morris, J. Z. (2016). The importance of virtue ethics in the IRB. Research Ethics, 12(4), 201-216.

Resnik, D. B. (2018). The ethics of research with human subjects: Protecting people, advancing science, promoting trust (Vol. 74). Springer.

Tauri, J. M. (2018). Research ethics, informed consent and the disempowerment of First Nation peoples. Research Ethics, 14(3), 1-14.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, October 30). Ethical Analysis of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/ethical-analysis-of-the-tuskegee-syphilis-experiments/

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StudyCorgi. "Ethical Analysis of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments." October 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/ethical-analysis-of-the-tuskegee-syphilis-experiments/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Ethical Analysis of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments." October 30, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/ethical-analysis-of-the-tuskegee-syphilis-experiments/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Ethical Analysis of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments'. 30 October.

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