The Principles of Research Ethics and Their Violation in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study – Medical Ethics Example

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The paper 'The Principles of Research Ethics and Their Violation in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study' is a worthy example of a paper on medical ethics.   This research paper focuses on the principles of research ethics and their violation of the Tuskegee syphilis study. This was a study conducted by the Department of Public Health Service beginning in 1932 and lasted for 40 years instead of the six months provided for in the research project. The department worked alongside the Tuskegee Institute to investigate the natural history of syphilis and targeted at justifying different treatment programs for the blacks.

As such, the researchers termed this research project as the “ Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. ” The study involved 600 participants who were all black men, 399 of them already infected with syphilis, while the other 201 being free from the disease. Question One The Tuskegee Syphilis Study violates all the ethical principles related to research work, such as the principles of the respect of persons, justice, as well as beneficence. In a normal research project, the study has to respect the participants in the project and ensure that none of the activities in the research project undermines their rights, privileges, and freedoms.

In addition, such a research project should be beneficial for them in the sense that they get to improve their condition or status after participating in the research study. This concept underlies the principle of beneficence. Lastly, the project has to be just and ethical to the participants (George, 2010). However, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study was very different from the expected norms and traditions of a research study, and as such, contradicted every principle or rule set to govern the ethical conduct of research work.

The researchers in the first place did not secure informed consent from the participants in the project but instead lied to them in order to lure them to take part in the project. This was wrong. The researchers informed the participants that they would undergo several tests for bad blood, which was a combination of a wide range of severe ailments including fatigue, syphilis, and anemia yet in the real sense they were conducting a study on untreated syphilis among black men (Haber & LoBiondo, 2013). Secondly, a research project has to take a specified period, in such a way it does not take away all the time from the participants since they have a normal life to live.

Consequently, research projects were not supposed to last long, and possibly stick to its prescribed period as suggested in the research project. This was not the case with the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The researchers suggested beforehand that the research would only last for six months, but it trailed along for 40 years to the dismay of all concerned participants and stakeholders.

In fact, it took the intervention of the government to bring the project to a halt after it lasted for so long. Thirdly, a research project should fulfill its mandate, in such a way that it carries out the experiments in order to determine the true results of each test or trial. This was not the case in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. As a syphilis study, the researchers were expected to treat these patients, put them on drugs, and find out which drugs worked best for the Negro male.

However, the researchers offered no appropriate treatment for the participants to cure them of their ailment. They did not even get a penicillin injection, which was at that time the best treatment alternative for syphilis patients. On the contrary, the researchers only offered these participants free meals, free medical exams, and burial insurance as benefits for their participation in the research project, which still they did not offer freely as it took the intervention of the courts to force them to meet their end of the bargain (Nieswiadomy, 2011). An analysis of the research project therefore identifies that the entire research project was ethically unjustified since the researchers gained only sparse knowledge as opposed to the risks that the research study posed to the participants. Question Two The Nuremberg Code of 1947 closely relates to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in the manner that both studies failed to uphold the ethical principles governing research projects and studies.

August 1947 saw the introduction of the Nuremberg Code after the Nuremberg trials whereby Nazi doctors were convicted for all the crimes that they committed during human experiments on the prisoners at concentration camps.

The ten points guideline provided during the trial was to oversee the legalities of every activity or event that took place during a research study, especially in relation to conducting human experiments. Key among these provisions was the right of informed consent by the participants. The participant needed to know what the research project was dealing with, understand all the potential risks before agreeing or refusing to take part willingly in the research.

As such, participants were free to leave the project at their own free will, and the research doctors were to stop all their human experiments in the event they realized the harm it caused to the patients. Therefore, there was no need to carry out an experiment whereby the risks involved outweighed the benefits (Haber & LoBiondo, 2013). The Tuskegee Syphilis Study closely relates to the Nuremberg Code of 1947 in the sense that it did not secure informed consent from participants during the research. In addition, the researchers did not explain to the participants the risks involved in the research, nor did they give them the freedom to stop participating in the research project willingly.

The study lasted for 40 years and the participants did not benefit anything from their participation in the project. Question Three The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was therefore a violation of human rights for the black males that participated in the research project. This is because the participants did not get an opportunity to decide whether or not to take part in the project as the researchers did not secure their informed consent.

In addition, the research project took longer than projected, thereby eating away into the private time of the participants. The research project did not provide the participants with the much-needed benefits for their participation in the project, such as appropriate treatment for the syphilis patients. As such, due to the high risks involved in the entire research project, the project became a violation of human rights (Nieswiadomy, 2011). Question Four This research project appears as though the nurse involved did not act in a professional manner as governed by the nursing code of ethics and professional practice.

A nurse should always look out for the welfare of her patients and looking forward to their quick recovery. This was not the case in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study as the nurse did not even offer the participant appropriate treatment for their disease. These actions were therefore unethical and unjustified. Question Five This research study has a wide range of implications as it flaunted most of the ethical principles necessary in a research project. One of the key principles that the research work had to meet was the right of informed consent by all participants in the research, a concept equally lauded by the Nuremberg 1947 Codes.

A Participant has to give his or her consent to participate in any research project after knowing all the risks involved in the research work. In addition, the participant should also be free to leave the research project at free will if he no longer feels comfortable with the entire plan (George, 2010). Conclusions In conclusion, it is clear from the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that the researchers violated a wide range of ethical principles governing research projects, which was very wrong.

As such, people learn from this study not to violate some of the key principles of research.


George, J. (2010). Nursing Theories: The Base for Professional Nursing Practice. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Publishers.

Haber, J. & LoBiondo, G. (2013). Nursing Research: Methods and Critical Appraisal for Evidence-Based Practice. London: Elsevier Health Sciences.

Miss Evers' Boys part 1 of 9. Retrieved from

Nieswiadomy, M. (2011). Foundations of Nursing Research. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Publishers.

Tuskegee Documentary. Retrieved from

Tuskegee Syphilis study apology from President Bill Clinton. Retrieved from

U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee. The Tuskegee Timeline. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from

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