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The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male was an infamous clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service (forerunner to the CDC) studying the natural progression of untreated syphilis in African-American men in under the guise of the men receiving free health care.

The PHS started working on the study in 1932, in collaboration with Tuskegee University.

The PHS enrolled 600 impoverished and illiterate men, African American sharecroppers from Macon County, Alabama. Of these men, 399 had previously contracted syphilis before the study began, and 201 did not have the disease. The men were given free medical care, meals, and free burial insurance (only after an autopsy) for participating in the study. None of the men infected were ever told they had syphilis, and none were treated with penicillin even after the antibiotic became proven for the treatment of syphilis in 1945. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the men were told they were being treated for “bad blood”, a local term for various illnesses that include syphilis, anemia, and fatigue.

The 40-year study was controversial for reasons related to ethical standards because researchers knowingly failed to treat patients appropriately after the 1940s validation of penicillin as an effective cure for the disease they were studying.

Peter Buxtun, a former employee of the United States Public Health Service became known as the whistleblower responsible for ending the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. In November 1966, he filed an official protest on ethical grounds with the Service’s Division of Venereal Diseases; this was rejected on the grounds that the Experiment was not yet complete. He filed another protest in November 1968; again, his concerns were ruled irrelevant. In 1972, Buxtun leaked information on the Tuskegee Experiment to Jean Heller of the Washington Star. Heller’s story exposing the Experiment was published on July 25, 1972; It became front-page news in the New York Times the following day. Senator Edward Kennedy called Congressional hearings, at which Buxtun and HEW officials testified and the Experiment was terminated shortly thereafter. Buxtun subsequently testified at the ensuing Congressional hearing.

By 1945, penicillin had become the standard treatment for syphilis. Choices available to the doctors involved in the study might have included treating all syphilitic subjects and closing the study, or splitting off a control group for testing with penicillin. Instead, the Tuskegee scientists continued the study without treating any participants; they withheld penicillin and information about it from the patients. In addition, scientists prevented participants from accessing syphilis treatment programs available to other residents in the area. The study continued, under numerous US Public Health Service supervisors, until 1972. The victims of the study, all African American, included numerous men who died of syphilis, 40 wives who contracted the disease, and 19 children born with congenital syphilis.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, cited as “arguably the most infamous biomedical research study in U.S. history”.


Fotografia, Minority Health and Health Equity Archive - University of Maryland Tuskegee Syphilis Study Pictures: Blood test by Mr. William Bouie and unidentified woman
Vídeo, Youtube Trust No Man
Notas e Referências:
Tuskegee Syphilis
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