Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment

Whistleblower: Peter Buxtun

Who is the Victim?

The victims where the 600 african american males in the study. 399 previously had syphilis and the rest were infected with it. Besides this, the entire colored community is a victim of these studies because of the intense mistrust that was produced by them. For many years, african americans did not accept medical treatment and believed they were all plots to diminish the colored population.

Who was the Whistleblower and for what company did he work with?

Peter Buxton was a venereal disease interviewer at the Public Health Department's Hunt Street Clinic in San Francisco. He was actually part of the Public Health Service and was horrified when he overheard his coworkers talking about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and how none of the subjects were told of its main intent.

What was exposed/ what information did Buxtun come out with?

Peter Buxtun relayed information to a reporter at the "Washington Star" about the unethical experiments undergoing in a poor county in Alabama in 1972. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments had been going on for 40 years although all the patients were told it would only be a few weeks (1932-1972). These experiments used african american men infected with syphilis. The purpose was to see the whole course of the disease and how it affects and kills the individual, specifically the african american male. This was a government sponsored study done by the Public Health Service. There was a racist context to the studies because the people conducting the experiments believed syphilis was different in african americans versus whites. They were lured in by the free food and medical examinations. None of the patients are informed that they had syphilis either, they were informed that they had "bad blood", a common name for the flu. The main unethical part of the experiment was that the goal was to have the patients eventually die from the syphilis so the doctors can fully understand its course in the african american male. It violates the Hippocratic Oath as well. Buxtun wrote letters to Dr. Brown and spoke with Dr. Cutler. His letters concerning the morality of the experiment were totally ignored so he took it to the Washington Star, where they published the completely wrong ethics and intent of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. This sparked widespread outrage.

What happened next?

Because of public outrage from Buxtun's whistle-blowing, a panel was formed to review the Tuskegee experiments. It consisted of a wide variety of professions, all coming together to decide whether or not the experiments are as useful as the doctors say they are. They were also to decide if the results were more important than the loss of human lives. This Ad Hoc Advisory Panel had members from different fields like law, labor, religion, education, health administration, medicine, and public affairs. The panel had first thought that all the men in the study had agreed to be examined and treated so they did not initially see a reason to terminate the study. The reality was that there was no evidence whatsoever of the researchers informing the african american males of the real purpose of the study. This shows that the men had ben misled by the researchers and did not have an adequate amount of facts needed to make a proper, informed decision. Later on, the panel came to a final conclusion that the study was "ethically unjustified" and when looking at the knowledge gained, it was not worth the risks posed for the subjects in the study. They made a final advisory to stop the study at once.

My Take On It

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments reflect the loose medical ethics in the 20th century.

Considering the research withheld the actual treatments of syphilis from their patients, it is very immoral. Their intent was to see these men die and is a clear violation of the timeless Hippocratic Oath. "I will prevent disease whenever I can, for prevention is preferable to cure". These lines are in the Hippocratic Oath, a simple guideline every physician should follow to do the most good out of their job. The researchers in the Tuskegee Experiment totally disregarded these guidelines and instead of preventing the disease in the 400 black males infected in the trial, they watched it consume them. Over the span of the 40 year study, the cure was discovered. A simple injection of the anti-biotic, penicillin, would end the disease. The researchers purposefully did not administer this injection to any of their patients and informed any local doctors to refrain from injecting anybody that was in the study. Mainly, the fact that there was a simple cure available, which was still avoided, makes it an extremely immoral experiment and reflects the darker areas of medical research. Human testing with an intent to NOT treat the subject or inform them of anything and bring harm to them is absolutely wrong and we are fortunate that this case existed so that people like Peter Buxton could expose it to prevent anything like it from ever happening again.

What Happened to the Whistleblower?

Peter Buxtun was the person that exposed the study to the "Washington Star" and it was front page news. He did not receive any benefits from disclosing the experiments but it did lead to many acts, commissions, and reports being made.

What Happened to the company or organization as a result of the whistleblower coming forward?

The entire study was shut down the same year it was exposed in the front page of the Washington Star. It caused outrage among everybody, as Buxtun had foretold. Many new rules were implemented concerning human test subjects so the Public Health Service would not be able to recreate anything similar to this study.

What Changes came about due to this whistle blowing?

After Buxtun exposed the experiments in 1972 that led to changes in health, education, and welfare rules concerning human subjects. Each survivor received $10,000. There was a lawsuit that led to an out of court settlement of 10 million dollars. The US government also promised lifetime medical benefits and burial services to all the study subjects that were still alive. President Clinton gave an apologetic, emotional speech concerning the morally wrong experiments and how they were very shameful and racist. It makes sense that he did this because the entire experiment (lasting 40 years) was conducted by a government agency, the Public Health Service. The studies led to a lot of mistrust in societies because the african americans began to think that every medicine the white people created was some type of genocidal government plot to slowly poison and destroy them. They also believed that AIDS was created in government labs and it was meant to infect and kill the entire colored population. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program was also developed and it was meant to provide the living victims with free health care and other benefits. In 1974, the National Research Act was signed into law, which created the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. There were also many regulations passed in 1974 that made it a requirement for researchers to get a voluntary informed consent from anybody partaking in studies that are done or funded by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (DHEW). These regulations also required any DHEW sponsored studies to be reviewed by the "Institutional Review Boards" which would review the study and decide if they are unethical. All these rules and regulations got reviewed many times since they were first approved, to ensure they are useful and are being implemented properly. For example, there was a "President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research which looked at rules for human test subjects and how well they are being enforced. Besides the rules implemented shortly after the ending of the study, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment led to a chain reaction of creating many different boards, acts, and commissions that were adopted many years later and are still followed today. The most recent is the President's Council on Bioethics, established in 2001.