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Course Questions, Research Paper Example

Pages: 2

Words: 617

Research Paper

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service to determine the effects of untreated syphilis in African American men residing in Alabama. This study ran from 1932 until 1972 and remains the longest non-therapeutic experiment on human beings in medical history (Heintzelman, 2003).  An urban myth exists that the study’s subjects were injected with the syphilis virus by the U.S. Government; however, the approximately 400 men involved all had syphilis at the outset of the experiment and were compared against a control group of 200 uninfected men.  The ethical problems with the experiment stem from the lack of informed consent provided to the subjects, who believed that they would be receiving free medical treatment.  These treatments were, in fact, painful spinal taps that were conducted without use of anaesthesia to allow doctors to monitor the neurological effects of syphilis (Heintzelman, 2003).  The doctors behaved unethically by taking advantage of their own position as figures of authority, as well as manipulating men who were uneducated and unaware of the medical implications of their condition.  The treatment of the subjects was further compromised in the late 1940s when doctors became aware that penicillin might be an effective treatment of syphilis; the antibiotic was withheld from these subjects even after penicillin became widely available in the 1950s (Heintzelman, 2003).

A study of this magnitude, and with such major ethical concerns, could not take place under research protocols that are currently in place to prevent human rights violations.  The Tuskegee Study resulted in the U.S. Government altering its research practices by signing into law the National Research Act of 1974, which identified basic research principles and sought to protect the rights of human subjects (CDC, 2011).  Regulations now mandate that researchers must obtain voluntary informed consent from their subjects, and that government-funded studies of human subjects must be reviewed by an impartial review board (CDC, 2011).

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) were established to protect the rights of human subjects in the wake of such ethically unsound experiments as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (Heintzelman, 2003). IRBs consist of a group of people of varying academic and research backgrounds who monitor research programs to ensure that the privacy, safety, and rights of human subjects are protected (Bronte-Tinkew et al., 2008).  Special considerations must be extended to children because they are part of a vulnerable population that requires special protection.  For anyone under 18, parents or guardians must provide approval for their research involvement.  The children in question, as well, must give assent, demonstrating that they understand the purposes of the research and agree to participate (National Institutes of Health, 2005).

Students, even those over the age of 18, could be considered vulnerable under specific circumstances.  For example, if college students were asked to participate in a study that was being conducted by one of their professors, it would be difficult to achieve true voluntary consent due to the power dynamics between professor and student.  In such a case, there would be a conflict of interest which would prevent students from being completely biased in their motivations for volunteering, as well as complicating the results of the study (if, for example, the student altered their responses in order to please the professor).

References

Bronte-Tinkew, J., Allen, T., & Joyner, K. (2008, Feb.). Institutional review boards (IRBs): What are they, and what are they important? Child Trends: Practitioner Insights, Research-to-Results. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/Files/Child_Trends-                   2008_02_19_Evaluation7IRBs.pdf

Center for Disease Control. (2011, June). How Tuskegee changed research practices. Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/after.htm

Heintzelman, C.A. (2003). The Tuskegee syphilis study and its implications for the 21st century. The New Social Worker, 10(4). Retrieved from http://www.socialworker.com/tuskegee.htm

National Institutes of Health. (2005, June 23). Regulations and ethical guidelines: Protection of human subjects. Retrieved from http://ohsr.od.nih.gov/guidelines/45cfr46.html

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