Racism and Research: the Case of the Tuskegee Syphilis

Abstract

This paper explores the Tuskegee Study article written by Allan M. Brandt, it studies the untreated syphilis progression in selected urban areas. It is known as the longest non-beneficial study on humans in medical history.

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It lasted a period of forty years (1932 to 1972), where over 400 males died in a scientific experiment based on unethical methods which included not informing the patients of the actual intent of the experiment. It has been nearly 60 years since this study took place and there still lingers an area of distrust with the black community on how they are educated and treated for diseases along with discontent with the public health system. An open and honest discussion about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study is still needed to rebuild the trust among the community. This paper examines the research provided by Allan M. Brandt in relation to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and his suggestion that the study must be understood as a result of American racism. The dialogue contains my thoughts, reflections, and connections to the Tuskegee Case Study and to my life and the world around me.

Let us take a further look into the case study that became so famous not because of the outstanding results they got out of it, even though they found the main root for the cause of increased syphilis in black males, but because of the unethical methods used to conduct the experiment. A little back history of the study like stated above it started in 1932 in Alabama and ended around 1972 and was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service. Over a period of 40 years over 400 males, who mind you did not even know they were participating in an experiment, had died due to the unethical decisions made by health authorities, one of the main ones was to not treat the syphilis with the right medicine once they found the disease in these men. Although there was a cure to the disease founded some years later after the experiment began called penicillin, they still rejected to treat the infected ones. It is felt by the community that the people conducting these studies were secretly wanting them to die, some people say it was conspiracies to eliminate people for population control because every subject chosen was a black male between the age of twenty-five and sixty. There were no white males or woman involved. Although there is no true evidence of this theory there is still distrust among the people of the community and the health system.

The main discussions in Brandt’s article were basically explaining how they conducted the experiment and the how the era in which It happened effected it. Social Darwinism was big at the time so the way white people saw people of color was horrific but what was worse is that some physicians accepted these beliefs so that reflected in their work. Brandt discussed how they chose their subjects, the tests given to everyone to evaluate them to see if they were right for the tests, how the health authorities portraited these men as sexual animals and how they were really focused on their genitals, and the end results of the study. One of the positive things in my opinion was the formation of boards and legislations for the health department. It consisted of nine board members. It is beneficial to the people of the community to feel safe and protected by the people who are supposed to be taking care of them. Having this committee was a crucial first step in rebuilding trust. Although it was formed afterward it was still needed.

This case study should never be replicated nor, will it ever be acceptable to replicate. Anyone who has basic knowledge and understanding on how to treat people can tell you this case study was unethical. There are rules and regulations, as well as basic human rights to follow forever person to perform their duties in each chosen field of profession. The health providers conducting these experiments blatantly offered a treatment to these men with no real intentions of treating them. From the way they selected the subjects, to the way they got tested to be a part of the experiment, to the time length of the experiment, to how many people died and how many kids born after had syphilis, it is all unethical. Although some people will argue that these consequences were needed to get the results of finding an antibiotic to properly treat this disease, many will argue that the health service system could have went about it a different way. Which they should have.

From a sociological perspective this is a conflict. I believe at the time the white race did feel threatened by people of color and that they were taking all their resources. There was inequality, there was racism, there was two groups of people who didn’t like each other. This case however involved heavy conflict because again it disregarded basic human rights as well as no providing the right medicine to save lives.

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