The staff of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues (Bioethics Commission) was pleased to welcome James H. Jones, Ph.D., to the office on November 21, 2014 for a discussion of his book Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, A Tragedy of Race and Medicine. First published in 1981 (Revised edition, 1993), Bad Blood is a historical account of a non-therapeutic scientific experiment conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) from 1932 to 1972 in rural Alabama. Bad Blood received the American Public Health Association’s Arthur Viseltear Award for the best book on the history of public health and was selected by the editors of The New York Times “Book Review” as one of the 12 “Best Books” published in 1981.
During his visit, Jones discussed how his research on Alfred C. Kinsey and the social hygiene movement in 1970 led him to discover records of the Tuskegee Study stored at the National Archives. The stated goal of the experiment was to document the effects of untreated syphilis in African American males living in and around Macon County, Alabama. Researchers identified several hundred men who had syphilis, failed to inform them that they had the disease, lied to them, and then provided them with iron tonic and aspirin instead of available syphilis treatment. Jones walked the staff through the timeline of the experiment, explaining not only how the study was conducted and by whom, but also why he believes it was able to go on for 40 years. Jones argued that several factors played a role in the study’s duration, including a series of internal promotions that allowed the same personnel to work on the project for so long.
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