The Tuskegee Syphilis Research: Violation Of Principles Of The Ethics Code


The Tuskegee Syphilis research violated several principles of the ethics code, which primarily are: respect for a person, justice, and beneficence. The stated goal of the study was to study the effects of untreated syphilis in 600 African—American men from Macon County, Alabama – from the moment of infection and throughout their lives. Healthy black men were infected with syphilis artificially, allegedly as part of a voluntary medical study. However, they were not informed of their condition. Instead, they were told that they were experiencing symptoms related to “bad blood” or “fatigue.” A study conducted by the US Public Health Service in collaboration with Tuskegee University promised free treatment and burial costs if any subject died during the experiment.

What was unethical?

No one cared about the subjects; they were only subjected to numerous blood and bone marrow samples to obtain research material (Tobin, 2022). Only in 1972, when an informant reported this experiment to the national press, the study closed. Seventy-four of the original subjects were still alive, and 100 people died of untreated syphilis. In 1992, after a class action lawsuit, the survivors received $40,000 and an apology from the 42nd US President, Bill Clinton. The US government classified all documents about the Tuskegee study in order not to provoke manipulation by the African-American population of the United States.


Medical professionals and researchers still utilize humans as lab animals, notwithstanding the Nuremberg Code and the Helsinki Declaration. The Tuskegee study is an illustration of a study that was carried out disregarding all ethical guidelines. It is clear from all of our considerations of the standards for ethical research involving human subjects that the Tuskegee Study did not take any of these requirements into account: people were employed as test subjects in a risky and scientifically flawed study. The researchers had no interest in pursuing any medical goals, such as the treatment or management of syphilis. Instead, the study was wholly unethical and prejudiced in every way.


Tobin, M. J. (2022). Fiftieth Anniversary of Uncovering the Tuskegee Syphilis Study: The Story and Timeless Lessons. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 205(10), 1145-1158.