The Tuskegee Syphilis Study still remains as one of the most outrageous examples of disregard of basic ethical principles of conduct not to mention violation of standards for ethical research. The suspicion and fear produced by the Tuskegee Syphilis Study are still evident today. Community workers often report mistrust of public health institutions within the African-American community. Recently Alpha Thomas of the Dallas Urban League testified before the National Commission on AIDS saying that many African-American people do not trust hospitals or any of the other community health care service providers because of that Tuskegee Experiment (Research Ethics: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 2010).
In 1990, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which is one of the country's major civil rights organizations, conducted a survey among 1056 African-American Church members in five cities. They found that 34% of the respondents believed that AIDS was an artificial virus, 35% believed that AIDS is a form of genocide, and 44% believed that the government is not telling the truth about AIDS or its research (Research Ethics: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 2010).
Following the Tuskegee Study, the government changed its research practices to prevent a repeat of the mistakes made in Tuskegee. In 1974, the National Research Act was signed into law. This shaped the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. The group recognized the basic principles of research conduct and suggested ways to ensure those principles were followed. In addition to the panel's advice, regulations were passed in 1974 that required researchers to get voluntary informed consent from all persons taking part in studies done or funded by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (DHEW). It was also requires that all DHEW-supported studies using human subjects are reviewed by Institutional Review Boards, which examined study protocols and decided whether they meet ethical standards (U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, n.d.).
The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program (THBP) is a mandated Congressional program that supplies comprehensive lifetime medical and health benefits to the affected widows and offspring of study participants. There are currently 14 children and two grandchildren that receive medical and health benefits. The greater part of the participants reside in the Georgia; while others live in the Southeastern and Midwestern parts of the United States. Yearly visits are made to the clients to ensure that they are receiving medical services and to resolve any health-related problems they may be experiencing. The visits also permit the program staff and health care representatives the opportunity to interact on a personal basis about the clients' health care needs (Boskey, 2007).
The rules and policies for human subject's research have been reviewed and revised many times since they were first approved. During 1980-1983, the President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research looked at federal rules for doing research on human subjects to see how well those rules were being followed. An Ethics Advisory Board was created in the late 1970s to review ethical issues of biomedical research. In 1991, federal departments and agencies adopted the Federal Policy for the Protection of Human Subjects (U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, n.d.).
Efforts to promote the highest ethical standards in research are still going on today. In October 1995, President Bill Clinton created a National Bioethics Advisory Commission that is funded and led by the Department of Health and Human Services. The commission's task is to review current regulations, policies, and procedures to ensure all possible safeguards are in place to protect research volunteers (U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee, n.d.).
The impact of the Tuskegee Study continues to be felt as the mistrust it generated interferes with attempts to combat AIDS in certain black areas. Cornelius Baker, who is the director of the National Association of People with AIDS, reports that many blacks, especially in the South, simply won't take medicines because they fear being killed off as part of the master plan. AIDS education programs in black communities have often provoked the topic of Tuskegee. AIDS educators feel that many blacks, particularly those in the South, believed that HIV was created to kill blacks and that the anti-HIV drug AZT would poison them. They have also asserted that condoms were meant to reduce the black population and that needle-exchange programs were designed to increase drug use in minority communities. Dr. Stephen B. Thomas, who is the director of the Institute for Minority Health at Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health, feels that the effects of the Tuskegee study have obstructed AIDS prevention and treatment efforts. He also thinks that the study is a primary reason as to why blacks are more reluctant than whites to donate blood or organs or to have their children vaccinated (Stryker, 1997).
The Tuskegee Syphilis Study is not a proud historical moment in the history of the country. And even though it was a horrible incident that never should have been allowed to take place, there have been some positive things that have come from it. Because of this there has been the formation of IRB's as well as several laws and Congressional mandates that have been developed. The errors surrounding the ethical treatment of human research subjects in this study have come to light and attempted to have been corrected.
Unfortunately there have also been many repercussions that have come from this study as well. There is evidence to support the idea that many African-Americans still do not feel comfortable in participating in biomedical research because of what has happened in the past. The study has also influenced AIDS studies in this country in a very negative way. There is still a lot of distrust of researchers along with the entire research process in regards to human subjects.
Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Study. (2009). Retrieved March 9, 2010, from University of Virginia Health System Web site: