The Tuskegee Study

The “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male” began in 1932. The Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute partnered to study syphilis in hopes of justifying treatment programs for Black people. Participants in the study were unaware of the parameters of the study which was conducted without informed consent. The 600 men in the study, 399 already infected by syphilis, 201 without, were told they were being treated for “bad blood,” and were not given proper treatment to cure their illness.

The study went on for 40 years, and participants were still not given adequate treatment even after penicillin became the standard treatment for syphilis. In 1972, an Associated Press story broke, and the study was terminated. The Center for Disease Control and the Public Health Service appointed an ad hoc advisory panel to review the study, finding that although the men agreed to certain terms of the experiment, they were not informed of the study’s actual purpose. A class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of study participants and their descendants, and the US government paid $10 million and agreed to provide free medical treatment to surviving participants and family members infected as a consequence of the study.

The study led to the establishment of the Office for Human Research Protections and federal regulations requiring institutional Review Boards for the protection of human subjects in studies.

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