Monday, September 7, 2009

Background on human research ethics in disease study

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was an observational study conducted by researchers for the US Public Health Service to observe the course of untreated syphilis. In 1932, 400 syphilitic black men from Macon County, Alabama were recruited to serve as participants. In addition to the questionable decision to study only black men in the pre-Civil Rights Era south, curative treatments such as penicillin were withheld from the participants throughout the course of the forty year study. In an era before informed consent was a standard of medical research, many of the men went blind, insane, or died as a direct result of their untreated syphilis, and some of them infected others. It was not until 1972, when word of the experiment reached the national press, that massive public outcry caused the study to be shut down. An investigatory commission declared the experiment “ethically unjustified”, particularly the choice to withhold treatment. Ethical standards for human subject research today are based on the principles set forth in the Belmont Report in 1979, whose code comes directly as a result of the Tuskegee study. Its three foremost principles to guide human subject research are “justice”, “beneficence”, and “respect for persons”—these all based on the ethical faults of Tuskegee.

1 comment:

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