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“Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment – The Deadly Deception”: Unethical Scientific Experiment

Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

Traditional biomedical researches that used human as research subjects were characterized by gross violation of their rights. The Tuskegee’s study of 1932-1972, as displayed in Nova’s (2019) video, is not an exception since other studies such as the Nazi experimentation of 1945-1947 were even more severe. However, White (2020) has emphasized the vitality of protecting human research subjects; this includes obtaining consent from the research subjects, saving their lives, avoid exposing them to significant risks, and more. Tuskegee reviews unethical scientific experiment on humans that was conducted by White physicians on predominantly African-Americans, which lacks conformity to proper humanitarian standards and conventional medical values.

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Tuskegee Study

According to Nova (2019: 4:07-4:40), the study dealt with untreated syphilis of Negro males, authorized by the US Public Health Service (USPHS), funded by the Federal government through taxpayers’ funds, and conducted by government doctors. This study was aimed at learning more about syphilis as a deadly and deliberating disease. The researchers employed a method of withholding treatment from 400 men of Africa American race living in Macon County, Alabama, in the US. Alongside taking advantage of this community as the most impoverished of all the American races, they were also deceived as the researchers promised to provide them with free special care. The 400 infected men were injected with a virus causing syphilis. Another group of 200 uninfected men was used as the control experiment group.

Violated Ethical Principles and Evidence

Throughout the experimentation, as evidenced in the video, myriads of ethical codes were breached. To begin with, the researchers failed informed consent ethics. After noticing a socioeconomic gap, the USPHS deceived potential research subjects and absconded their obligation to explain the research purpose (Barrett, 2019). In their persuasive sentiment, the researchers overwhelmingly used the phrase “bad blood” but never explained its meaning to the research subjects. In other cases, employers colluded with researchers to instruct their workers to seek blood tests. Moreover, in 1936, investigators began to perform an autopsy without subjects’ consent; this transcended publishing findings from autopsies in major medical journals (Nova, 2019: 27:04). Overall, the Tuskegee study did not comply with the informed consent code.

Researchers proceeded to withhold treatment for research purposes. The investigators overlooked research participants’ welfare by failing to provide them with penicillin though it had been established as a syphilis cure. After the study had hit the deadline (6months), Van de Lair, who executed the roles of field officer in this study, extended the study timeline to 40 years (Nova, 2019: 22:02). Thus, the treatment turned out eventually as a research project.

Reason for having Physicians and Patients in Tuskegee Study and Explanation of Informed Consent

USPHS physicians frequently moved to Macon, Alabama, purposeful to examine men, who were also deceived that they were suffering because of having bad blood. The physician consistently lied to the men while attempting to persuade them to undertake aggressive prognostic and diagnostic procedures as patients (Barrett, 2019). Informed consent is described as telling the potential research participants about every research aspect that might significantly impact their decision to participate.

The Intuitional Review Boards (IRBs) and Its Role

IRBs are duly instituted, through the National Research Act in the US (Qiao, 2018), as an administrative organ established and tailored to protecting the rights and welfare of human research subjects selected to participate in any biomedical research. IRBs are responsible for any research whose participants are human with the intent of protecting the welfare, privacy, and rights from being violated (White, 2020). Thus, it approves, disapproves, monitors, and recommends modifications for research activities.

Conclusively, the Tuskegee study is an atypical example of studies that have conventionally violated ethical research codes. In particular, informed consent is one of the significant ethics that has been trashed in this research besides carrying less about human welfare. Researchers should be obliged to obtain consent from research subjects and keep them safe from harm. Generally, researchers in the Tuskegee study showed gross misconduct in dealing with humanity and ethical principles.

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Barrett, L. A. (2019). Tuskegee syphilis study of 1932–1973 and the rise of bioethics as shown through government documents and actions. DttP: Documents to the People, 47(4), 11-16. Web.

Nova, (2019). Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment – The Deadly Deception. [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Qiao, H. (2018). A brief introduction to institutional review boards in the United States. Pediatric Investigation, 2(1), 46-51. Web.

White, M. G. (2020). Why human subjects research protection is essential. Ochsner Journal, 20(1), 16-33. Web.

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