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Home / Essays / The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

The Tuskegee syphilis experiment name is derived from a black university called Tuskegee institute. This experiment was conducted between 1932 and 1972 by public health service (PHS) in the U.S. for a period of forty years; this mainly involved illiterate sharecroppers black men who totaled to around 399 and came from Alabama country which consisted of poorest African Americans. The subjects were not given clear intentions of the government and they were only informed of being treated of "bad blood" as it was referred, but the overall intention was to allow for diagnoses of syphilis remedies throughout the period but with no intention of curing them of the disease.

The doctors collected data for the experiment from the recruited participant's autopsies as their syphilis was left deliberately to degenerate. The symptoms/ravages of syphilis included heart diseases, blindness, insanity, tumors or resulted to permanent diseases attack reading to death. The intentions of the study as they suggested were that it assisted in discovering the effects of syphilis on blacks with comparisons to the effects on whites. They put in theory that there were more neurological complications experienced by the whites while blacks had a cardiovascular damage.

In the definition of Syphilis; it's a highly acquired or congenital contagious disease that is caused by a spirochete scientifically referred to as Treponema pallidum. Syphilis involves the systematic body tissues and multiplication of spirochetes; it is more rapid after the initial penetration of T. Pallidum. Infections can also be transmitted from a mother who is infected to the fetus through placenta penetration by the spirochete. Spirochete attacks the body within days when released into the bloodstream and it is acquired sexually through membranes of skin.

Effects of syphilis include a condition known as neurosyphilis; causing different effects including, paralysis or insanity due to the poor condition caused to the brain, foot-stamping gait due to degeneration of spinal cord and permanent deafness due to irreversible blindness. In syphilis, there are cases of heart leakage as walls of the heart and blood vessels weaken due to the presence of tumors, which might result in sudden death.

The study for this case started in 1972 due to public influence and media revealing of the effects and consequences of the experiment by medical experts involved in the case. The government agreed to end up the long durational experiment to the public openly in the same year. It also decided to provide proper medication to the patients who were still alive after the 40-year process, including effective treatment of syphilis by use of medication vaccines that had been reserved from the commencement of the experiment in 1932. The crime committed was considered as a capital/ state offense and a class action suit was imminent.

In the same year, a lawyer Fred Gray filed a case concerning the Tuskegee experiment victims and their grievances on the full outcome of syphilis effects. The suit required out of court settlement of a fine of $10 million by the government for the participants involved in the performance of Tuskegee experiment together with their families. There were contradictions in this suit as the only organizations named by Fred Gray in the suit were the whites run organizations and the white nationalities involved, however in this Tuskegee experiment, doctors, and institutions of black ethnicity were largely involved from the commencement of the project; which made the case seem as black and white case.

In this case element of racists attitudes to a white official in the experiment were suggested but it was hard to put a blame game as most of the medical facilities lent for the Tuskegee study, were black-oriented organizations. Most blacks' doctors said that they were obedient due to aspirations to get recognitions' by a government agency and also due to the many promises that were rendered by the government.

The public health service (PHS) involved made arguments against the case claiming that they were following orders that they had been assigned to carry out and that it was not their personal responsibility for the 40-year undertakings of the experiment and that they should be exempted. They declined more on the comparison made by media services of their current Tuskegee experiment to the past experiments or any other experiment carried under government instructions, example the NAZI experiment carried during World War II to the Jewish. They had remained reluctant in accepting their involvements and saying it was out of will that the subjects carried out the task of the experiment day in day out; they asserted that the participants were mere "volunteers" who were willingly ready to Partake the given process with no much complaints and with much delight. One state health officer from Alabama claimed that "somebody is trying to make a mountain out of a molehill" as the press tried to accuse them of irresponsibility.

This experiment was considered to be morally wrong and it resulted in outrageous reactions by the black community, who implied on the existence of racism in the government. The government had portrayed clearly of racist behaviors' through this experiment as they assigned multiple tasks to the blacks doctors in the Public Health Service and also through ensuring a wide number of the poor African American subjects acted as guinea pigs.

Questioning of the morality of this experiment? In the situation where the hospital prescribed remedies of syphilis to the men but in very low qualities or in small amounts that had little or hardly any improvement on the condition of syphilis victims, made it an immoral act to the society. Doctors continued to prescribe unqualified drugs to the subjects over a long period of time and eventually replaced their initial treatment of syphilis with full treatment using a medicine they referred to as "pink medicine" but in a real sense, it was just an aspirin. To ensure the progression of the experiment they carried on occasional medical checkups for disease effects throughout the 40 year period and also carried out regular tests on the participants. The Subjects involved provided blood samples during the treatment process and carried out a procedure known as "lumbar puncture" purposefully for carrying out neural syphilis diagnose. It was a painful procedure that one had to endure as one had to be inserted with a large needle into the spinal cord.

Their main aim was to encourage the African American to carry out continuously the painful and tiresome procedure through false misleading on treatment promises. The participants were also misled through letters that stated " free treatment was available and that autopsies would be required", this intention is clearly illustrated where doctors states that "If the colored population becomes aware that accepting free hospital care means a post-mortem, every dark member will leave Macon County" Prominent members of the United States surgery department were the core participants in the enticement process of ensuring that the subjects remained in the Tuskegee experiment by promising them that, after 25 years each member of the experiment will be issued with certificates of appreciation.

The final results of the Tuskegee experiment came in limelight after hard conclusions by few of its officers who realized that what was learned could not prevent the overall cure of syphilis. In 1972 the experiment consequences appeared in the media but no one took serious attention to the obvious violations of human rights involved. A reporter by the name Harry Reasoner tried to provide the public with a quick view of the experiment progress but the Tuskegee experiment continued to use humans as laboratory subjects.

The experiment end resulted in the death of about 28 men of syphilis infections and syphilis direct effects while almost a hundred died of complications related to syphilis. Others were infected with the disease especially wives of the participants thus ending up infecting the children with congenital syphilis. The legal implications of this case erupted when the Public Health Service (PHS) exempted men who registered during the World War II for the draft to get syphilis treatment. These experiments also continued despite various act (Henderson act) requiring for a treatment of venereal diseases and declarations' by World Health Organization's that consent was required for the experiment.

The case was concluded through major compensation of $10 million and each affected participant received a sum total of $37,500. Free medical care was also offered to the remaining subjects of the study together with their families. Court and no ruling whatsoever on the crime that had been carried on as it was the duty of the government to safeguard the well being of its citizen but it mistakenly carried out the imminent Tuskegee syphilis experiment without the consent of the participants, they had the power as they were the commanding affiliates. The president of US Clinton apologized to the participants of syphilis test and ordered for Full compensation.

In conclusion, this Tuskegee syphilis experiment can be considered as one of the most gruesome experiments carried out over a long period without the consent of individuals and the government should be greatly responsible for the act and avoid instances of racism in the state.

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