Sex Research Ethics Tuskegee Study


After watching the film (link below) on the Tuskegee study, reflect on what you feel were the main violations of ethics. What do you feel are the main ethical concerns facing sexuality research today?

1. Watch the video
2. Answer question (250-400 words)
3. Reply the 2 Topics (A & B) below

A. After watching the Tuskegee study film, there are many violations of ethics that occurred within the study. This study would have violated many rules and conducts of today’s society, but during the 1920s-1930s when the study was issued, the film mentions that no one or very little people would care about the inhumane treatment of the all-black study group that was chosen for the study. This means the study was designed under racial motivations. The health officials who designed the study knew this and, therefore chose this study group in order to avoid any backfire from the inhumane conditions they operated under. The study group was not acknowledged of the treatment and diagnosis, but only told that they had “bad blood” and the study would cure them. A testimony from one of the study group members states that he received a spinal tap and had no idea what the purpose or reason for it. The film also mentions that those in the study group were given placebos and Advils in order to make them believe that it was medication to help cure the disease. The scientists and researchers who operated the study were only concerned with recording valuable information to create a treatment while neglecting the health status and needs of the study group which displays their wrong motives and malpractices. The researchers also understood that the black community of Tuskegee, Alabama were uneducated. They targeted this black community because they knew no one would speak up or ask questions about what or why something was done. The study was racially motivated, violated many ethics, and displayed dishonesty, distrust, and malpractices. I believe some of the ethical concerns facing sexuality research today can very much be related to the Tuskegee study. Issues with consent, dishonesty, and wrong motivations can create a study with malpractices. If researchers are conducting a study with the wrong motivations, patients and those in the study group may face inhumane conditions much like the Tuskegee study. Dishonesty from researchers can violate the patients’ rights to understand the reason for the study and its aspects.

B. The Tuskegee Study violated many ethical standards over its forty year period. A couple of main ethics I believe this study violated was honesty and integrity. The study was originally supposed to last six months, but instead lasted forty years, from 1932-1972. The impoverished African-Americans participating were promised free medical care from the United States government. However, researchers still continued the study after it lost its funding, but without informing that those infected would not get treated. The whole purpose of the study was to observe the history of syphilis in hopes of finding treatment, however when penicillin was proven to be a successful antibiotic to treat the infection, subjects did not receive the treatment. The participants were misled with the purpose, with what they were promised, and fully taken advantage of over the course of this study. I say this because researchers intentionally preyed on the indigent minority and researchers abused the situation those African-American men were in. The Tuskegee Study simply lacked concern and respect for their participants and I think overall negatively affected the subjects trust in healthcare professionals and healthcare as a whole. I feel the main ethical concerns facing sexuality research today is fidelity and trust and if the research is of beneficence. I think that researchers probably struggle with whether or not their study would benefit people and do good, especially if the study involves humans. This brings up an ethical concern regarding using people as subjects to test on; a life (or lives) could potentially be in the hands of the testers. In general, effective communication goes a long way; if sexuality research is conducted to gain a participants trust they need to be informed of the “purpose and the potential risks and [the] benefits” (Yarber, 2019, p. 31). In other words, full disclosure and effective communication would need to be understood by both of the parties involved to establish and maintain trust for an ethical study.

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