The Tuskegee Study

The U.S. Public Health Service's Program that Studied Black Men with Syphilis Without Informed Consent for Over 40 Years

From 1932-1972, the United States Public Health Service collaborated with the Tuskegee Institute to study black men infected with syphilis in Macon County, Alabama, in hopes to justify a treatment program for the disease.

Officially named the "Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male", the study was conducted on 600 black men without their informed consent. The men were told that they were being treated for "bad blood," a term used at the time to describe ailments including syphilis, anemia, and fatigue. The men were told that they would receive treatment, but were never provided with proper or adequate treatment for the disease. Even when Penicillin became the drug of choice for syphilis in 1947, it was not given to the subjects, and they were never given the option of quitting the study.

The study, originally planned to last only six months, continued causing needless pain and suffering for the men and their loved ones for 40 years, until an Associated Press article led to public outrage and a government investigation and advisory panel, which deemed the study ethically irresponsible and ended it almost immediately. In 1974, the government settled a class-action lawsuit out of court for $10 million and lifetime health benefits for all participants, the last of whom died in 2004.

President Bill Clinton formally apologized for this study on behalf of the U.S. Government in 1997, nearly 65 years after the study began in 1932.