Penicillin, Syphilis & African-Americans

Penicillin is a drug, but more precisely an anti-biotic often use nowadays. This drug was discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, in London*. Penicillin was discovered to be the first cure for syphilis who had killed many people.

In 1932, the US Public Health Service decided to start studying hundreds of poor African-American men who showed symptoms related to syphilis.* In order to study the disease, the government decided not to give them penicillin to continue their research. In studying syphilis, many died of this disease and propagated it to their wives and children. In the 1950’s penicillin was widely spread as a safe antibiotics that could cure syphilis. However this treatment was still denied to African-Americans that were part of the study or being treated.

Human testing has to be highly regulated; because science sometimes tends to cross the line of what is right or wrong for their curiosity. For a research to be ethical, the subject of this experiment must volunteer. He must be explained all the parts of this research, properly informed on what are the implications of the experiment. The subject also must be treated. The doctors cannot withhold a treatment to study a disease like the government did with the African-American part of their study. There must also be accurate records of the experiments and the results. In the case of the study for syphilis, the number of surviving subjects was estimated between 76 and 111 where as the numbers of death were estimated to be between 28 and 101, which is a big leap.

This study was not a success. Most criteria that make a research ethical were not followed and created a controversy in the scientific world. When humans are being tested, the person’s right should always be followed.





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