Students choose TWO extended case studies and will write an essay comparing and critically evaluating their ethical challenges and the strategies used to minimize or guard against harmful results.
The essay must address the following issues:
- What ethical principles are at issue in each case? Provide and justify specific examples.
- What strategies were used to insure the standards of ethical research?
- Were those strategies successful? How and why?
- What alternate strategies might also have been used to achieve the same or better results?
- Which case study represents a better implementation of research ethics? How and why?
Tuskegee Syphilis Studies (various authors, 1930s – 1970s)
In 1932, the US Public Health Service began a longitudinal study that came to be called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Black men in Macon County, Alabama were recruited by circulating word in the community that they could receive free tests for “bad blood” at the teaching hospital of the Tuskegee Institute.
616 men (412 diagnosed with syphilis and 204 disease-free controls) eventually participated. At the start of the study, syphilis was poorly understood and untreatable, but penicillin became widely available as an effective cure for the disease in 1943. Nevertheless, participants were not informed of their disease, not treated, and actively encouraged n o t to go elsewhere once viable treatments were known.
The medical community was aware of the study through numerous scholarly publications, but no one formally objected to the study until 1965. The PHS convened an ethical review panel in 1969 that found no ethical violations and recommended the study continue. It was not halted until 1972, when an Associated Press expose appeared, causing widespread public furor.
Yanomami: The Fierce People (Chagnon, 1968, & others) – critiqued in Darkness in El Dorado (Tierney, 2002)
Beginning in 1964, a South American tribe called the Yanomamo became the subject of intense and prolonged research scrutiny. They were regarded as perhaps the last truly “primitive” people – and the most violent. Chagnon and Neel’s research was world famous and considered groundbreaking at the time, but has subsequently raised a host of ethical issues.
Among the charges (still being vigorously disputed) were that much of the evidence was staged, researchers interfered to incite war and other conflicts with the Yanomamo, and that (either through improper procedures or illconceived medical experiments) they introduced a number of often fatal diseases into the population.
This research also opened the door for the US government to use the Yanomamo as test subjects for Project Sunshine (to test the effects of radiation poisoning) and other medical and social experiments conducted by a variety of agencies, companies, and research teams that have subsequently decimated the tribe.