The Tuskegee Syphilis Study’s Ethical Violations

The Tuskegee Syphilis study is an unethical, racially motivated experiment that was conducted between 1932 and 1972 on the funding of the United States Public Health Service. The experiment’s purpose was to observe and study the effects of untreated syphilis in Black men of Macon County, Alabama. However, the subjects of the research were uninformed of the details of the research. Conducting the experiment without the consent of the patients is one of many ethical violations that occurred during the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

The intention to conduct a study of a life-threatening infection on Black men was purely racially motivated. During the entire course of the research that lasted for 40 years, 100% of the subjects were poor, rural African-American men. The racial attitudes of the US in the 1930s were the reason for the study’s initial purpose. The research of the venereal disease in Black men was initiated, assuming the spread of syphilis, its symptoms, and deadliness differed based on the fact of the subject’s race (Jerry Bean, 2021). When the results of the experiment proved the opposite, the participants were turned into guinea pigs of the research for the benefit of White people suffering from the disease. The experiment continued despite the ongoing Civil Rights movement in the middle of the 1950s, happening as nearly as 50 miles away from the Tuskegee Study’s location (Jerry Bean, 2021). The Black men were abused for the purpose of the study due to the fact of their poor financial and educational background and racial segregation laws.

The involuntary participants of the appalling experiment were purposely lied to about the nature of the US government and Public Health Service for the duration of the entire research. To ensure the participants’ cooperation during the conduction of the experiment, the men were promised free medical care. However, the nature of their disease was not disclosed to them (Brewer, & Crano, 2000). The subjects were provided disguised placebos and sometimes painful diagnostic procedures as a treatment for bad blood. The Black men were condemned to years of lies and suffering by their doctors and government.

During the experiment, all the possible ways for the subjects to receive essential medicine and help were precluded. Due to the nature and the purpose of the study, which is to observe the effects of untreated syphilis, the primary concern of the researchers was to prevent any form of treatment for the subjects (Jerry Bean, 2021). The participants were denied enrolling in the military during World War II since the soldiers were provided medical assistance for many diseases, including syphilis. By the end of 1940s, penicillin was invented and became a widely available as a standard treatment for the syphilis. Despite that, the subjects of the experiment were denied the antibiotic (Jerry Bean, 2021). The few men who sought help in other medical facilities were tracked and stopped. The researchers under the US Public Health Service worked hard to make sure no treatment was provided to guarantee the precision of their observations.

The 40-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study violated many major ethical implications. It was racially motivated and discriminative against American Black men. The subjects of the study were purposely lied to and withheld the information of the study to ensure their cooperation for an extended period of time. The suffering and pain of the patients infected with syphilis were ignored, denying them the available treatment. The conducted experiment can be considered the most infamous biomedical study in the entire US history.


Brewer, M. B., & Crano, W. D. (2000). Research design and issues of validity. Handbook of research methods in social and personality psychology, 3-16.

Jerry Bean. (2021). The Deadly Deception [Video]. YouTube. Web.

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