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Reflecting on Bioethical Issues

Plot Summary and the Historical Context

The film Miss Evers’s Boys examines bioethical issues through the enactment of a historical unethical study on Black Americans. The American government in collaboration with the Tuskegee Institute carried out a study about the evolution of syphilis among the black population. They used 600 blacks; some of them had the disease while others did not have it. They appointed Nurse Eunice Rivers, whose name in the film is Nurse Evers, to help the doctors in handling the participants. The institution provided food, transportation and other services for the participants, but did not provide treatment for the disease (Butts, 2007).

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At the initial stages of the study, the doctors only massaged the participants with mercury and liniment. When experts discovered penicillin in the 1940s as the best drug for treating syphilis, the doctors decided to keep it a secret. They did not inform the participants about this invention. Nurse Evers, who knew about it, took the responsibility to give the participants good treatment. She once stole penicillin and used it in treating one of the participants without telling him the seriousness of the reaction of the drug within the body. She later testified before the Senate that she did not see the need for blowing the whistle because the study was doing something good for the blacks. According to her, black Americans received good medication for the first time in their history as citizens of America. The study took forty years before a whistle-blower revealed the unethical practices to the public (Butts, 2007).

These practices were contrary to the requirements of the beneficence principle of ethics. This principle requires all research experiments to prioritize the welfare of all the participants. According to this principle, researchers should do everything possible to eradicate evil and prevent harm to the participants. In addition, they should not participate in any activity that is likely to cause harm (Cummings & Mercurio, 2010).

Reflection on the Movie

Nurse Evers should not have kept quiet when she knew about the unethical practices in the study. She was supposed to be the first whistle-blower. The principle of beneficence requires one to prevent evil (Fournier, 2005). She should have informed the participants about the government’s plan to use them as specimens for their experiments without the intention to heal them.

This principle also forbids doctors from carrying out a study with the purpose of benefiting the government or their institution at the expense of the participants’ welfare (Fournier, 2005). Therefore, the doctors should have ensured that the participants do not have syphilis by the end of their study rather than just concentrating on the evolution of syphilis among blacks.

It was very unprofessional for the doctors to deny the participants information about their status. They did not tell them their real illness and its seriousness. Therefore, they went against the principle’s concept that requires people to do good deeds at all times. They should have informed the participants about their problem. They should also have treated them using penicillin instead of hiding it.


The role of the healthcare professional is to do good, prevent evil and avoid causing harm to other people at all costs. Individuals in leadership positions in healthcare facilities should ensure that every employee upholds good practices. It is their responsibility to develop codes of conduct within their organizations. They should then supervise every activity to ensure that doctors and nurses observe all the regulations that the codes of conduct stipulate. They should also punish all staff members who engage in practices that go against the ethical standards of the institution.

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Butts, H. (2007). Miss Evers’ boys. Journal of the National Medical Association, 99(2), 175.

Cummings, C., & Mercurio, M. (2010). Ethics for the pediatrician autonomy, beneficence, and rights. Pediatrics in Review, 31(6), 252-255.

Fournier, V. (2005). The balance between beneficence and respect for patient autonomy in clinical medical ethics in France. Cambridge Quarterly Of Healthcare Ethics, 14(03), 281–286.

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