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Reaction Paper

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Antonio Boyd

Intro to Psychology

Mr. Joseph J. Oaster, Jr. Med

Reaction Paper #1

During the years 1932 through 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) used 399 African American men, for lack of a better term, as lab rats. They conducted an experiment on these men, monitoring the late stages of the venereal disease syphilis. These men were of the poorest in Alabama’s society during this period. They were uneducated sharecroppers, whom were told that they were being treated for having bad blood. A doctor, one of whom had no intentions on curing these men of syphilis, indicated that him as well as his colleges, had no interest in the patients until they were dead.

The initial study was meant to discover how syphilis affected African Americans, as opposed to Caucasians. The theory behind this experiment was that Caucasians experienced more neurological complications from syphilis, whereas African Americans were more susceptible to cardiovascular damage. But miraculously, it took some forty years for someone whom was involved in the study to notice the end results and realize that nothing that was being learned would help prevent, find, or cure one single case of infectious venereal disease syphilis. This would not even bring them any closer to their basic mission of controlling venereal disease in the United States.

By the end of the experiment, so much had gone wrong. 28 of the men had died directly from syphilis, 100 of the men were dead from related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected with syphilis, and 19 of the men’s children had been born with congenital syphilis. To one day ensure that the men would show up for a potentially painful and dangerous spinal tap, the PHS doctors led the patients to believe that this was their “Last Chance for Special Free Treatment.” This experiment stooped as low as to getting the Surgeon General of the United States to send out certificates of appreciation after 25 years in the study, to these men.

This study was not, and could not be named a racist experiment. This is due to the number of African Americans affiliated with the process. Just to name some specific connections, it was said that the Tuskegee Institute, an African American university founded by Booker T. Washington, is where the experiments name came from. Tuskegee’s Institutes hospital allowed the PHS staff to use their medical facilities for some of the research. Their were also other African American institutions and local doctors whom participated as well. A Tuskegee doctor claimed that this was a great time for their students to receive a more hands on approach to their fields of study. One nurse, Eunice Rivers claimed that, “we were taught that we never diagnosed, we never prescribed; we followed the doctor’s instructions.”

This story of the 40 year long journey of 399 syphilis infected African Americans finally came out on July 25, 1972, in the Washington Star. It was written by Jean Heller of the Associated Press. Jean’s source was Peter Buxtun, who was a former PHS venereal disease interviewer. The claims made by the PHS was that all of the men were volunteers, and that they were always happy to see the doctors. Undoubtedly, the government put an end to the PHS’ experiment, and for the first time the PHS had no choice but to provide the men with the effective medical treatment for syphilis.

This type of study could never have taken place during this day and age. The ethical principals that people in general, not pertaining to race, have are just set so high. You would not be able to even find a doctor, or a set of nurses that would be willing to stoop so low as to sit by and watch innocent people die, when they know that there is a chance that they can be helped. I believe that people’s



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