Analysis of the Tuskegee experiment


The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was a U.S. Public Health Service study of African American men from 1932 until 1972. The research aimed to learn about the progression and consequences of syphilis disease throughout a patient’s lifetime (Caplan, 2007). However, the unique aspect of this study was that patients were not aware of their participation in it. Patients were not notified about the sickness, and other government entities or doctors were not permitted to help those test subjects either. There were numerous occasions when it came to ensuring that participants were not receiving therapy from outside the USPHS. In 1934, representatives from the USPHS visited with groups of local black doctors to seek their participation in not treating the male patients (Caplan, 2007). When the Alabama Health Department sent a mobile VD unit to Tuskegee in the early 1940s, the USPHS urged them not to treat the test participants (Brandt, 1978). The test subjects were denied whenever a cure in the form of penicillin was readily available. Totaling 400 patients, 200 of whom were uninfected and served as controls in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study (Brandt, 1978). Thus, this research paper examines the USPHS’s decision to use African Americans as test subjects in a study without their consent.

Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics is regarded as an agent-based ethics-an approach that emphasizes the moral agent’s character and motivations (Patel, 2022). Virtue ethicists explain the Tuskegee research using Aristotle’s domains of human experience. The study was not oriented on the dread of serious harm, especially death, because the doctors conducting it were interested in studying illness behavior during patients’ lives; therefore, they were reckless, which was a vice of excess according to Aristotle’s domains. According to Aristotle’s spheres, the study’s conservatism constituted a vice of inadequacy. According to Aristotle’s domains, the research did not take into account the needs of African Americans like it should have. According to Aristotle, a deficient defect is one in which one ignores the happy or unfortunate destinies of other people. As a result of the condition not being addressed throughout the experiment, those who had sexual contact with the people being tested were put at risk.

Intellectual knowledge was said to behave arrogantly toward test subjects in accordance with Aristotle’s realms. The study coerced other medical facilities to withhold assistance from the participants by providing them with patient information lists and sending them to the facilities. As a direct consequence, there was a lack of good judgment, and the research was used as a check and balance. There is no set standard or principle governing moral behavior; instead, the individual’s rational pursuit of moral excellence as an end in and of itself constitutes morality (Patel, 2022). According to research conducted at Tuskegee University, Aristotle’s spheres were either a vice of excess or vice of insufficiency; they were not a virtue in the mean.

Deontology Ethical Theory

According to deontology, the rightness of a decision is determined by applying a set of norms to the decision (Stos, 2018). However, to put it another way, if Kant’s Categorical Imperative is applied to the Tuskegee study. When the USPHS decided to investigate African Americans, it was morally incorrect since Kant maintained that goodwill or motive was the only genuinely beneficial thing (Ogungbure, 2011). The goal of the USPHS was not to find a cure but to understand the disease’s progression better. Following Kant’s principle of universality, finding a treatment is not essential to Maxim, who is willing to research disease to learn about it (Ogungbure, 2011). As a result of the maxim being corrupt, the moral standing of the motivation is improper or immoral if applied universally, which means that every study conducted on the sickness at every location is done with the sole purpose of finding a cure.

Another necessary step could be the United States Public Health Service’s determination to conduct research on African-Americans. Assuming it is carried out everywhere and research on African Americans is conducted everywhere, it will have a global impact. If it were not for the immoral motive or purpose, the preceding imperative would have unacceptable moral standing. It gives the impression of racism not only because it targets a certain group but also because the intent behind it is dishonest. Nevertheless, Kant’s categorical imperative sheds light on the hidden motivations behind the Tuskegee investigation.


As a result of the comparison and contrast of the two hypotheses discussed above, it is concluded that the deontologists’ ethical point of view provides a more satisfactory explanation of the Tuskegee syphilis study. The choice by the USPHS to investigate African Americans was unethical since the motivation behind it was dishonest. It was not to find a cure but rather to comprehend the reaction of the disease as it progressed in the patient during its development. Because it emphasizes the will or motive rather than the effect of the action, deontology provides the most compelling justification in this scenario.

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  1. Brandt, A. (1978). Racism and Research: The Case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The Hastings Center Report8(6), 21.
  2. Caplan, A. (2007). Bad blood: The Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Biosocieties2(2), 275-276.
  3. Ogungbure, A. (2011). The Tuskegee Syphilis Study: Some Ethical Reflections [Ebook] (3rd ed., pp. 75-92). University of Ibadan, Nigeria. Retrieved 27 July 2022, from
  4. Patel, P. (2022). Applying Virtue Ethics: The Rajat Gupta Insider Trading Case. Seven Pillars Institute. Retrieved 27 July 2022, from
  5. Stos, S. (2018). Utilitarianism, Deontology and Virtue Ethics. Journal Of Business Ethics Education15, 315-322.
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