How the Public Learned About the Infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study

By | July 25, 2017

As the fight over reforms to the American health-care system continues this week, Tuesday marks the 45th anniversary of a grim milestone in the history of health care in the U.S.

On July 25, 1972, the public learned that, over the course of the previous 40 years, a government medical experiment conducted in the Tuskegee, Ala., area had allowed hundreds of African-American men with syphilis to go untreated so that scientists could study the effects of the disease.

“Of about 600 Alabama black men who originally took part in the study, 200 or so were allowed to suffer the disease and its side effects without treatment, even after penicillin was discovered as a cure for syphilis,” the Associated Press reported, breaking the story. “[U.S. Public Health Service officials] contend that survivors of the experiment are now too old to treat for syphilis, but add that PHS doctors are giving the men thorough physical examinations every two years and are treating them for whatever other ailments and diseases they have developed.”

By the time the bombshell report came out, seven men involved had died of syphilis and more than 150 of heart failure that may or may not have been linked to syphilis. Seventy-four participants were still alive, but the government health officials who started the study had already retired. (TIME)

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