In this opening blog, I would like to remember the families impacted by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, an experiment that was inhumane on so many levels. In this study, the U.S. Public Health Service knew that 399 Black males had syphilis, and they were researching what would happen to these men if they went untreated. To make things worse, the men never even knew that they had syphilis nor were they given medication to cure them. They were just told by government researchers that they had “bad blood.” As a result, many of them died, some of their wives were infected, and their kids born with the disease. The Tuskegee Syphilis study was inhumane because researchers targeted only one race and they didn’t care what happened to them. What’s worse, the study participants didn’t even know that they were taking part in a research experiment, nor that they had a lethal disease that could be cured, since penicillin was already available at the time.
In 1997, President Clinton apologized about this unethical government study (Youtube, 2016, 0:02-0:10). He said it was “shameful,” and it was! While an apology cannot reverse decades of hurt caused by this study, it is a reminder that Black Americans are resilient. After all, this study began in 1932, and the last widow receiving the Tuskegee Health Benefit (a program that gave lifetime medical benefits and burial services to living participants) passed away in 2009, only 10 years ago. This study is the main reason for the passing of the National Research Act of 1974, which stipulates the procedures for informing research participants that they are in a study, and includes the requirements of voluntary informed consent and an explanation of the benefits and risks of participating. Families of Tuskegee, we are forever indebted to you!
Youtube. (2016). The unknowns about the Tuskegee syphilis study.
By Faye Jones, Ph.D.
Research Analyst, Black News Channel
Faculty Researcher, Florida State University
Black Research Matters is about empowering our readers with research about themselves, and specifically to inspire and educate our communities with information about the latest innovations and research related to, and developed by, African Americans. As a community, we must know about research that is about us, for us, and from us. Black Research Matters provides an opportunity for both academicians to share information and for the Black community to ask questions and share their experiences. Together we will explore and dissect issues from all angles, but most importantly address how these issues impact Black America. Future themes will be based on your suggestions, and include research topics in health, politics, the economy, finance, education, religion, sports and so much more. BNC welcomes your suggestions, so please send research topics that you are interested in to Dr. Jones.