Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: Ethical Controversy | Free Essay Example

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: Ethical Controversy

Words: 636
Topic: Health & Medicine


In terms of ethics, healthcare and healthcare research issues seem to be among the most complicated ones to tackle. However, when it comes to choosing between the significance of a research and the importance of a human life, the priority should go to the last one. Although the Tuskegee case concerned the violation of the aforementioned rule, it set the background for the reconsideration of healthcare ethics, which means that the ethical value of the given case deserves reconsideration.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: Some History

As far as the case record says, the Tuskegee Institute researchers conducted a series of experiments over the sharecroppers living in Mason County, AL. Although the participants were told to be treated for “bad blood,” in fact, the effects of penicillin on the people contracted with syphilis were being checked in the given experiment. The researchers tried to sweep the results of the experiment under the rug, yet with little effect. After the information concerning several people dying of syphilis reached press, the experiment was stopped.

Concerning the Ethical Issues: Patient’s Consent

When considering the case through the goggles of the present-day medical ethics, one will inevitably spot the key problem with the given research, i.e., the fact that the participants of the experiment were not informed about their disease. Therefore, the agreement that the researchers and the participants had could not be considered as an informed consent.

The Positive Experience: Rethinking the Approved Principles

As it has been stressed above, some of the outcomes of the given experiment can be regarded as positive. To start with, the myth concerning the effects of penicillin on people who had contracted syphilis was finally busted. However, the research could also be regarded as a step that led to the breakthrough in medical research ethics, with the introduction of the concept of the patient’s consent as the cornerstone principle of not only medical research, but also medicine in general.

The Impact on Modern IRB: Changes in the Accepted Course

The aftermath of the study in question reinvented not only healthcare ethics; in addition to the results mentioned above, the given case spurred the reconstruction of the Institutional review Board, which was supposed to approve or disapprove of researches conducted in the field of medicine and healthcare. As historical record says, the IRB finally accepted the idea of a patient’s consent as the integral part of a medical research.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and the Today Research Standards

According to the present-day research standards, the arguments that the researchers provided when deciding not to inform the participants on the experiment conducted in Tuskegee, its implications and its meaning do not hold any water. As the current standards for conducting medical researches say, the participants must be fully informed on their role in the experiment. The above-mentioned rule was clearly violated in the case in point.

Apart from allowing setting clearer ethical regulations for studies in healthcare, the given case has also made researches in social sciences quite complicated. Since in a number of experiments, the theoretical concepts, as well as numerous details, are quite hard to explain to a person who has little to no idea about healthcare, following the principles of the patient’s consent has become rather hard, with all the explanations and clarifications that must be provided to every single participant.


It cannot be doubted that the Tuskegee case has had a huge effect on healthcare ethics, as well as the ethic of research all over the world. Not only did it provide a major reason for creating the principle of keeping the participants informed, but also set the stage for improving the already existing concept of participants’ consent. That being said, one of the most notorious cases in healthcare research did leave a positive impact.