The Tuskegee Experiment was a 40-year study experiment that looked at the consequences of untreated syphilis. Black rural farm workers were the focus of government-sponsored research in the United States, and they were kept in the dark while they suffered. After going to the press in 1972, a whistleblower revealed the study’s unethical and morally wrong goals.
The United States Public Health Service (PHS) researched the impact of untreated sickness in 600 Black males in Macon County, Alabama, over four decades. In 1932, 399 of the 600 sharecroppers who were to be investigated had already been diagnosed with venereal disease. The farmers were made to believe they were being treated for “bad blood,” a word that may refer to a variety of diseases. The study took place at the Tuskegee Institute, which is located in Alabama.
In a tragic way, the sickness spread to the men’s families. By the end of the tests, 28 men had died of syphilis, another 100 had died of disease-related complications, 40 of the women had contracted the disease, and 19 children had been born with congenital syphilis.
A New York foundation has apologized for its role in the infamous experiment after several years. According to the Associated Press, the Milbank Memorial Fund said its function was to pay for the deceased men’s funeral expenses up to $100 provided their widows agreed to an autopsy so doctors could research their dead husbands’ bodies further.
The fund’s apologies were accompanied by a payment to the Voices of our Fathers Legacy Foundation, a descendants’ organization. According to the Milbank Memorial Fund, it became a part of the study in 1935 after Hugh Cumming, the US surgeon general at the time, requested it. According to a study by historian Susan M Reverby, Milbank paid a total of $20,150 for around 234 autopsies.
The Fund’s president, Christopher F. Koller, stated that there is no justification for what occurred. “The upshot of this was real harm,” he told the Associated Press.
Sen. Edward Kennedy convened three Congressional hearings in 1972 after Peter Buxtun, a White PHS venereal disease researcher, revealed the study’s insidious nature to the public through the Washington Star. Buxtun and other researchers testified. A class-action lawsuit was launched by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which was eventually resolved for $9 million. The surviving study patients and their families received free care as part of the settlement.
The discoveries at Tuskegee inspired Congress to establish the National Research Act in 1974, which helped develop rules for human medical research. Bill Clinton, then-President of the United States, apologized to the study participants and their families on May 16, 1997, calling the act “racist.”