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Researchers told the men participating in the study that they were to be treated for "bad blood." This term was used locally by people to describe a host of diagnosable ailments including but not limited to anemia, fatigue, and syphilis. Of this group 399, who had syphilis were a part of the experimental group and 201 were control subjects.Most of the men were poor and illiterate sharecroppers from the county.Still, the chilling effects of the study linger to this day — it’s routinely cited as a reason some African-Americans are reluctant to participate in medical research, or even go to the doctor for routine check-ups.
WASHINGTON (AP) — EDITOR’S NOTE: On July 25, 1972, Associated Press reporter Jean Heller broke news that rocked the American medical establishment.
The federal government, she reported, had let hundreds of black men in rural Alabama go untreated for syphilis for 40 years for research purposes.
A public outcry ensued, and the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” ended three months later.
The men filed a lawsuit that resulted in a $9 million settlement, and then-President Bill Clinton formally apologized years later.
The study took place in Macon County, Alabama, the county seat of Tuskegee referred to as the "Black Belt" because of its rich soil and vast number of black sharecroppers who were the economic backbone of the region.
The research itself took place on the campus of Tuskegee Institute.The syphilis experiment, called the Tuskegee Study, began in 1932 in Tuskegee, Ala., an area which had the highest syphilis rate in the nation at that time.When the study began, the discovery of penicillin as a cure for syphilis was still 10 years away and the general availability of the drug was 15 years away.Members of Congress reacted with shock to disclosure Tuesday by The Associated Press that the PHS syphilis experimentation on human guinea pigs had taken place. William Proxmire, D-Wis., a member of the Senate appropriations subcommittee which oversees PHS budgets, called the study “a moral and ethical nightmare.”“It’s incredible to me that such a thing could ever have happened,” he said in a statement.“The Congress should give careful consideration to compensating the families of these men.”Sen. Kennedy, D-Mass., chairman of the Senate health subcommittee, said through a committee spokesman that he deplores the facts of the case and is concerned about whether any other such experiments exist.The intent of the study was to record the natural history of syphilis in Blacks.The study was called the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male." When the study was initiated there were no proven treatments for the disease.According to PHS data, half the men with syphilis were given the arsenic-mercury treatment, but the other half, about 200 men, received no treatment for syphilis at all.Men were persuaded to participate by promises of free transportation to and from hospitals, free hot lunches, free medical treatment for ailments other than syphilis and free burial.Treatment in the 1930s consisted primarily of doses of arsenic and mercury.Of the 600 original participants in the study, one third showed no signs having syphilis; the others had the disease.