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Research Work and the Tuskegee Syphlis Study

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Research Work and The Tuskegee Syphilis Study
Tammy Warner
Grand Canyon University

September 10, 2014

Research Work and The Tuskegee Syphilis Study
Much of what we learn in life, we learn from other people. This can be accomplished by learning from other people’s mistakes or we can learn from making our own. This author prefers to learn from other people in hopes of not making a bigger mistake. There are many things that we can learn from The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male (Smith, 1999). The author would like to explore the ethical issues that were violated to recruit and retain participants in this study and how they are still affecting our profession today as well as how the public views the profession of nursing.
History of the Study
The Tuskegee Study began in 1932 with approximately 400 sharecroppers who had late stage untreated syphilis. The study included 200 controls that were free of the disease. The 200 men were never told they had syphilis. These men were only told they were in a study but not told what that really meant. According to Harold Edgar (1992) the Tuskegee study was not only an example of a scientific misconduct, but was ethically wrong from the start and was built upon deception. It was a study in which poor, illiterate black men had been deceived into thinking they were being taken care of (Caplin, 1992). As incentives to enter the program, these men were promised free medical care, free hot lunches, and free burial after autopsies. Ironically, it was these burial benefits that kept the study going for as long as it did. In order for the government to continue paying these expenses, the study had to be conducted. It is believed that if the government would stop paying the burial expenses, the study might have become public (Edgar, 1992).
The researchers very carefully chose the study location. White physicians chose Tuskegee Institute because it had a history of service to the African-Americans and would not feel vulnerable. However, black physicians were needed to get the cooperation of the participants.
The study also retained a black public health nurse from the same region for the complete length of the study. This nurse became a very convincing and influential person to the study by forming obedient relationships with the men and their families. She was the one who provided the transportation, organized the men for examinations, as as provided the reassurance the men needed. The study also was efficacious in gaining black church leader, elders in the community, and plantation owners to help recruit participants. These well-known trustworthy people did not appear to the participants as people doing harm to them (Thomas & Quinn, 1991).
Ethics of Informed Consent
Participants of this study were never knowledgeable that they suffered from a specific disease or the significance of the disease (Smith, 1999). Most of the participants had never been treated by a doctor before as medical was not available to them. The researchers of the study did not believe that they would understand medical terms and did not educate them about syphilis or that it was contagious and transmitted through sexual intercourse. Researchers used words like “bad blood” to describe syphilis understanding the men knew it meant many types of ailments. This insured a steady flow of participants (Thomas & Quinn, 1991).
Integrity of the Study
The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male is the longest nontherapeutic experiment on human beings in medical history (Thomas & Quinn, 1991). Anybody looking at this study can see justice was not being served for many explanations. It was implied by the researchers that all who were positive for syphilis would receive treatment. However, they failed to inform the participants that it would be less than the recommended amount of treatment normally provided.
This study took astonishing actions to guarantee that the participants did not receive the effective treatment. The draft board at this time was sending out letters to all men who were testing positive for syphilis. These researchers had the draft board exclude the participants of this study from informing of available treatment. The participants were also excluded from being informed of penicillin being used to treat syphilis when it was first being used. Researchers insisted that it was more important to continue the study making it an opportunity to never have to be repeated again in history (Thomas & Quinn, 1991).
Nursing Ethics
Nurses have a code of ethics that states how nurses will treat and provide for patients. This specific study involved only one nurse who did not follow the code of ethics while caring for her patients. There was no respect to human dignity or their social status. This nurse did not safeguard or protect the participants to the unethical practices. To argue in the nurse’s favor, this nurse may have been a victim herself as much as the participants themselves. She was not only African-American herself, but also a female. This was the only person who worked between the researchers and the participants and was providing to the continuing of the study in hopes of advancing the body of knowledge.
This paper reviewed the history of study that had moral and ethical issues in the planning of the study. It reviewed how participants were chosen and why they were chosen. This study is a cry for justice for all who participate in research. This was a description of how the health care providers have treated minorities in the past. By using the knowledge that was gained in handling the moral issues of this study, we should never let this happen again with any group of people.

Caplin, A. L. (1992, November-December). When evil intrudes. Hastings Center Report, 22(6), 29-32.
Edgar, H. (1992, Novermber-December). Twenty years after the Tuskegee syphilis study. Hastings Center Report, 22(6), 32-35.
Smith, C. G. (1999, January). The continuing legacy of the Tuskeggee syphilis study. American Journal of Medical Science, 317(), 5-8.
Thomas, S. B., & Quinn, S. C. (1991, November). The Tuskegee syphilis study 1932-1972: Implications for HIV education and AIDS risk education programs in the black community. American Journal of Public Health, 81, 1498-1505.

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