Discuss whether it adhered to or violated the American Psychological Association’s (APA) ethical principles for research with human participants; in particular, address each of the following points in relation to the Tuskegee Experiment:
The Tuskegee Experiment, also known as the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, was a notorious research study conducted by the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) from 1932 to 1972. The experiment involved 600 African American men, 399 of whom had syphilis, while 201 were control subjects without the disease. The study sought to observe the natural progression of untreated syphilis in the participants, even though a cure became available midway through the study.
In assessing whether the Tuskegee Experiment adhered to or violated the American Psychological Association’s (APA) ethical principles for research with human participants, it is crucial to apply the ethical standards and guidelines established by the APA at the time the study was conducted. The Tuskegee Experiment sparked significant changes in research ethics and led to the establishment of more stringent safeguards to protect participants.
To evaluate adherence to the APA’s ethical principles, we will consider several points in relation to the Tuskegee Experiment:
1. Informed Consent: One of the fundamental principles of research ethics involves obtaining informed consent from participants. In the Tuskegee Experiment, participants were not adequately informed about the study’s true nature, risks, and potential harm. They were simply told that they were being treated for “bad blood,” a local term used to describe various conditions. This lack of informed consent directly violated the ethical principle.
2. Beneficence and Non-maleficence: These ethical principles require researchers to prioritize the well-being and avoid harm to participants. In the Tuskegee Experiment, the participants were deliberately denied access to treatment, even when it became available in the form of penicillin. This denial of treatment contradicts the principles of beneficence and non-maleficence, as it caused unnecessary harm and prolonged suffering.
3. Privacy and Confidentiality: Participants have the right to privacy, and researchers must ensure that their confidentiality is maintained throughout the study. In the Tuskegee Experiment, participant privacy was compromised, as the participants’ personal information was collected without their consent. Additionally, the study results were published, further violating participants’ confidentiality.
4. Justice: The principle of justice requires ensuring fair treatment and the equitable distribution of benefits and burdens among study participants. In the Tuskegee Experiment, a notable violation of justice occurred, as African American men were targeted for inclusion in the study solely due to their race. This discriminatory selection demonstrated a disregard for the principle of justice, as they were subjected to additional burdens without receiving equal benefits.
5. Deception: The Tuskegee Experiment involved significant deception. Participants were misled about the true purpose of the study, and they were not provided with accurate information about their condition or potential treatments. This deception undermines the principles of honesty and integrity in research, violating ethical standards.
Overall, the Tuskegee Experiment clearly violated multiple ethical principles outlined by the APA. The study’s lack of informed consent, denial of treatment, breach of privacy and confidentiality, discriminatory inclusion, and deception are all significant ethical breaches. The Tuskegee Experiment has become an infamous example of the grave consequences that can arise when ethical principles are ignored or violated.
It is important to note that the Tuskegee Experiment eventually led to substantial changes in research ethics. In 1974, the National Research Act was passed, which established the National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. This commission created the Belmont Report, which outlined key principles and guidelines for research involving human subjects. The Tuskegee Experiment served as a powerful reminder of the need for ethical standards and safeguards to protect the welfare of research participants.
In conclusion, the Tuskegee Experiment clearly violated several ethical principles established by the APA. It lacked informed consent, denied treatment, compromised privacy and confidentiality, demonstrated a disregard for justice, and involved deception. These ethical breaches have had a profound impact on research ethics, leading to significant changes in regulations and guidelines to protect the rights and well-being of research participants.