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The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

One of the most controversial and little-known government operations in American history was the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Conducted between 1932 and 1972, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was a study of untreated syphilis in African American men, conducted by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). The study was conducted without the knowledge or consent of the men involved, and it was not until 1972 that the study was exposed and brought to an end.

Blood being drawn on African American men for the study

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was conducted in Macon County, Alabama, and it involved 600 African American men, 399 of whom had syphilis and 201 of whom did not. The men were not told that they had syphilis, and they were not given any treatment for the disease. Instead, they were simply observed as the disease progressed, with the goal of studying the effects of syphilis on the human body.

An African American man being tested for syphilis

The study was conducted under the guise of "providing treatment" to the men, but in reality, no treatment was provided. Instead, the men were given "placebo" treatment such as aspirin, and were told that they had "bad blood," a term used to describe a variety of ailments including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was not only unethical, but it was also racist. The men involved in the study were poor, rural, and uneducated, and they were chosen specifically because of their race and their socioeconomic status. The study was a product of the racist attitudes of the time, which saw African Americans as inferior and less deserving of medical treatment than whites.

A man undergoing a spinal tap while being treated for syphilis contracted during the study.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was exposed in 1972 by a whistleblower, a young public health physician named Peter Buxtun. Buxtun had been working with the USPHS and had become increasingly uncomfortable with the study as he learned more about it. He contacted a journalist, Jean Heller of the Associated Press, and provided her with the information she needed to break the story.

Peter Bruxton

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was a shocking revelation, and it caused widespread public outrage. The USPHS was forced to shut down the study, and the men involved in the study were finally given the treatment they needed. However, the damage had already been done. Many of the men had died from the disease, and many more had suffered serious health complications as a result of the study.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is a dark chapter in American history, and it serves as a reminder of the dangers of government-conducted medical experiments on vulnerable populations. The experiment was a violation of the basic human rights of the men involved, and it was a shameful example of the government's willingness to sacrifice the health and well-being of its citizens in the name of scientific research.

The study also highlighted the deep-seated racism in the medical field, as the African American men were not only denied proper treatment but were also used as guinea pigs without their knowledge or consent. Furthermore, it revealed the lack of oversight and accountability in the government's medical research, as the study went on for 40 years before being exposed.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is a stark reminder of the need for transparency, oversight, and ethical standards in government-conducted research. It also serves as a call to action for marginalized communities to advocate for their own health and rights, as well as for the medical field to actively work to address and correct past injustices.

  • Aaron - the Not Top Secret team

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