1972 July 26

New York Times Exposes Racist Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment


A story in The New York Times on this day exposed the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiment, which has been called “arguably the most infamous biomedical research project in U. S. history.” Peter Buxtun, a Public Health Service investigator, had leaked the story to the Times. The experiment, which lasted from 1932 to 1972, studied the progress of untreated syphilis in poor people. U.S. Public Health Service used 600 poor African-Americans, 399 of whom already had contracted syphilis and were offered, in exchange, free health care. They were never told they had syphilis and were never treated, even though treatments existed with the development of penicillin in the 1940s.

Exposure of the experiment was one of several events leading to federal regulations for the protection of human subjects. The Belmont Report (September 30, 1978) is a summary of ethical principles and guidelines for research involving humans. On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton held a White House ceremony in which he apologized to the surviving participants in the experiment whom he had invited to attend.

Read about the shameful experiment: James Jones, Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (New and Expanded Edition 1992)

Watch a documentary on the experiment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUExxTIFaLE

See the movie about the experiment, Mrs. Evers’ Boys: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119679/

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