ATS Journals Session to Highlight Lessons Learned from the Tuskegee Experiment

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Tuskegee Experiment, one of America’s most disgraceful medical travesties of the modern age.

To further shed light on the historic study, how it happened, and the lessons learned from it, Martin J. Tobin, MD, Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, will discuss his just-released paper, “Fiftieth Anniversary of Uncovering the Tuskegee Syphilis Study: The Story and Timeless Lessons,” during Publishing the Best Science: The Comprehensive Spectrum Provided by the ATS Family of Journals, from 2:15-3:45 p.m. PT on Monday, May 16, in Room 3010/3012 (West Building, Level 3) in the Moscone Center.

In his paper, published in the May 15, 2022, issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Dr. Tobin wrote about how physicians intentionally withheld effective treatments from nearly 400 African American men with syphilis from 1932 to 1972. Between 28 and 100 men had died as a direct result of the disease by 1969, but government scientists continued the experiment for another three years.

One of the more troubling facets of the Tuskegee Experiment, Dr. Tobin noted, was that the Public Health Service, precursor to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, conducted the experiment.

Most of the men studied by the Tuskegee Experiment were poor, uneducated sharecroppers who had been promised free medical care and burial insurance. They also were deceived into thinking they’d be treated with medications that were effective against syphilis.

Several reports on the Tuskegee Experiment and the devastation of untreated syphilis were published in medical journals between the mid-1930s and the early 1970s, but no commentary from physicians or scientists criticizing the ethics of the experiment.

That changed when the PHS hired a young psychiatric social worker, Peter Buxtun, to interview patients with venereal disease. After raising his concerns about the ethics of the study with the PHS, Buxtun contacted the press. Dr. Tobin’s paper outlines the action and inaction following this ugly chapter in American medicine making the front page of national newspapers and subsequent revelations about the researchers involved in the Tuskegee Experiment.

This symposium also will include presentations on recent publications in the following ATS journals:

  • American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Fernando J. Martinez, MD, MS, Weill Cornell Medical College
  • American Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology, Paul T. Schumacker, PhD, ATSF, Northwestern University
  • Annals of the American Thoracic Society, Colin R. Cooke, MD, University of Michigan
  • ATS Scholar, Nitin Seam, MD, ATSF, National Institutes of Health

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