The year was 1932 and the Public Health Service agency, in conjunction with the Tuskegee Institute wanted to study the effects of syphilis on the human body. The study was officially titled, “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” The initial study had 600 Black men as participants and was supposed to last for 6 months but actually lasted for 40 years. The study group was divided into 399 men with syphilis and 201 men without the STD. This horrific study was conducted without the participants being informed of the true nature of the study and with the explicit consent of the US government. The men who unwittingly took part in the study, were told they had what the locals called “bad blood;” which could’ve been anemia, fatigue, or syphilis. Throughout the study, the men were never given any kind of treatment to cure the disease.
The men were subjected to very painful and unnecessary spinal taps. The reason behind why the men were duped was to see the long term effects of the disease on the body even if it lead to death. The researchers figured the men would obviously not stay in the study if they knew what was being done to them. The researchers continued tracking these men even though there was little to be gained. It is believed that a total of 128 of the men died directly from syphilis or complications attributed to the disease. Also, 40 infected their wives (and in some cases possibly others), and about 19 of the men’s children were born with congenital syphilis.
The study did not come to light until an Associated Press article in 1972 created public outrage. The Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs, was then forced to appoint a panel that consisted of people from the fields of medicine, law, religion, labor, education, health administration, and public affairs to investigate the findings of the article. The panel found that the men had voluntarily participated in the study but they were never informed of the true nature of the study. Even after 15 years, when penicillin became a viable antibiotic treatment for the disease, the men were still not offered the drug as a treatment option.
The panel concluded that, the men who were unknowingly used in the Tuskegee Study, took part in an experiment that was “ethically unjustified.” The results of the study showed that the information gained was insignificant, when compared to the risks the participants faced. The study was finally halted in November 1972 and in the summer of 1973, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the men used in the experiment and their families.
Finally in 1974, the US government agreed to a $10 million out-of-court settlement, that would provide lifetime medical benefits and burial expenses to all living participants and their families who were subjected to the horrendous Tuskegee Study. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program (THBP) was created in order to administer the benefits. The last of the surviving participants died in January 2004 and the final surviving widow died in January 2009. The THBP program benefits are still being paid to 12 surviving offspring.