Historical Perspectives: The Tuskegee Experiment

Contributed by Michael Okebugwu, Class of 2019

The Tuskegee Experiment which was one of the most infamous acts by doctors and the United States Public Health Services instilled syphilis to groups of African American men in Macon, Alabama. The Tuskegee Experiment occurred from 1932-1972.

Over 200 men did not have the syphilis, while 198 African American men had the disease. The men did not receive an informed consent about the study, nor did the doctors disclosed to the test subjects what the study was pertaining to. The study was basically giving African Americans males syphilis in order to deduce what the disease would do to them in a long period of time. This is part of American history because it has caused the African Americans to mistrust the government and health care professionals.



The men had a right to be informed that they had syphilis and the government and the doctors had a responsibility to convey the nature of the experiment. Moreover, it is the law for doctors to treat patients to the best of their abilities, but the doctors did not treat the test subjects even after the cure for syphilis was discovered. The American government had a duty to protect the public. However, they did not perform their duty and as a result the men were deprived of their rights. The vicious element in this experiment was that the United States Public Health Service had the treatment for syphilis, however, they did not treat the patients even in the 1940s when the standard treatment for syphilis was penicillin. The research study continued for forty years.  It was clandestine because the test subjects were oblivious of their illnesses and the American government did not treat these patients after the experiment was concluded. At the completion of the research, only 74 test-subjects survived the experiment. The patients gave their wives syphilis and their children were born with congenital syphilis.  The doctors pragmatically used African American males as guinea pigs to gather research regarding the long-term effects of syphilis on their health.

Additionally, the experiment created an adjustment in our society because we now have laws and protocols when using humans as test subjects. This incident changed the laws in medical practices, which in eventually affected pharmacy practices. It created the Belmont Report Ethical Principles and Guidelines for the Protection of Human Subjects of Research in 1979 which protected the rights of the individuals who are participating in any form of research. The government passed the National Research Act, which created a commission to write regulations governing human test subjects.

The Tuskegee Experiment is significant to the pharmacist as well as the history of America because patients’ trust in health care professionals shifted from doctors to pharmacist. African Americans qualm doctor and question the motives of doctors. This are reason why pharmacists have become the most trusted health professionals in the United States. Pharmacists do not benefit from patients when we give recommendations on over the counter medicines. We do this simply because we care for the health of our patients. We are the drug experts and we are very accessible; we are responsible in aiding African Americans to recoup our trust as health care professionals. The incident of the Tuskegee Experiment has developed laws to be more stringent and considerate with people’s lives when dealing with research protocols because it is ethically and morally unacceptable for the heinous act of experimentation to be executed on the human species.


  1. Manolakis, P. G., & Skelton, J. B. (2010). Pharmacists’ contributions to primary care in the United States collaborating to address unmet patient care needs: the emerging role for pharmacists to address the shortage of primary care providers. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 74(10), S7. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21436916
  2. The Legacy of Tuskegee – TheBody.com. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.thebody.com/content/art30946.html
  3. Tuskegee Study – Research Implications – CDC – NCHHSTP. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/after.htm
  4. Clinical Trials Timeline. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://ictd2015.lillycoi.com/ 






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