Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment Essay

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In 1932, in the area surrounding Tuskegee, Macon County, Alabama, the United States Public Health Service (PHS) and the Rosenwald Foundation began a survey and small treatment program for African-Americans with syphilis. Within a few months, the deepening depression, the lack of funds from the foundation, and the large number of untreated cases provided the government’s researchers with what seemed to be an unprecedented opportunity to study a seemingly almost “natural” experimentation of latent syphilis in African-American men. What had begun as a “treatment” program thus was converted by the PHS researchers, under the imprimatur of the Surgeon General and with knowledge and consent of the President of Tuskegee Institute, the medical …show more content…
None of the men knew that the “bad blood” which coursed through their veins was contagious. None understood how the disease was transmitted; no one explained to them that congenital syphilis was passed on from female to fetus. It was an experiment based on deception, a characteristic that it retained for the next forty years. Through a historical analysis of the experiment several questions arise, particularly the issues of the men’s participation in the experiment and the black professionals who witnessed the study. Why did these Black men take part in this study? Why did the Black health professionals not challenge the study? The answers to these questions are interconnected and lies captive in a term Jones calls racial medicine (Jones 15). Prior to 1932 information concerning the origin, conception, development, and the complications of untreated syphilis was known to medical science. The one element left to be known about this disease was a cure. By this time, scientist were well aware of the fact that syphilis was a highly contagious disease caused by treponema pallidum, a microscopic organism resembling a corkscrew. The disease may be acquired, meaning passed from person-to-person either during sexual intercourse or mixing of bodily fluids, or congenital meaning obtained through birth. The disease progresses in three stages: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The
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