Tuskegee Syphilis Study

In 1932 the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) initiated an experiment in Tuskegee, Alabama, to determine the natural course of untreated, latent syphilis in black males. The test comprised 400 syphilitic men as well as 200 uninfected men who served as controls. The first published report of the study appeared in 1936 with subsequent papers issued every four to six years through the 1960s. When penicillin became widely available by the early 1950s as the preferred treatment for syphilis, the men did not receive therapy. In fact, on several occasions, the USPHS actually sought to prevent treatment. Moreover, a committee at the federally operated Center for Disease Control decided in 1969 that the study should be continued.

Only in 1972, when accounts of the study first appeared in the national press, did the Department of Health, Education and Welfare halt the experiment. At that time seventy-four of the test subjects were still alive; at least twenty-eight, but perhaps more than 100, had died directly from advanced syphilitic lesions. In August 1992, HEW appointed an investigatory panel which issued a report the following year. The panel found the study to have been “ethically unjustified

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