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Bad Blood

A Case Study of the Tuskegee Syphilis Project


Charles R. Fourtner
Department of Biological Sciences
University at Buffalo
Clyde Freeman Herreid
Department of Biological Sciences
University at Buffalo


The ethics of human experimentation are explored in this case about the infamous syphilis studies performed at the Tuskegee Institute from the 1930s to the 1960s. Sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, 399 African American men with syphilis were recruited for a research study on the progression of the disease when left untreated. The case examines the science underlying the experiment as well as the ethical and racial issues. One of its goals is to help students understand the evolution in our thinking on issues of science, human experimentation, and race, and how they are conditioned by our culture. The case could be used in any course that explores the ethics of science.


  • To examine an historical medical case history involving scientific and moral issues.
  • To learn about the disease syphilis.
  • To learn about the Nuremberg Code and regulations where human subjects are involved.
  • To understand how well intentioned studies may go awry when medical advances and societal values shift.
  • To consider the meaning of "informed consent" in human studies.


Tuskegee; syphilis; human experimentation; experimental design; research ethics; medical ethics; bioethics; Nuremberg Code; informed consent

Topical Areas

Ethics, History of science, Legal issues, Policy issues, Scientific method, Social issues, Social justice issues

Educational Level

High school, Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division, Graduate, Professional (degree program), General public & informal education



Type / Methods




Subject Headings

Biology (General)  |   Medicine (General)  |   Science (General)  |   Public Health  |   Science Education  |  

Date Posted


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