You are on page 1of 4

Each of us have got to bear his burden in the heat of the day.

Youve got your burden I got mine. We do

what the lord gives us to do (Mr.Evers qtd in Miss Evers Boys, 1997). Being a health care professional often

means embracing the words of Mr. Evers and quite literally doing what the lord gives us to do. However, with

the responsibility of carrying out our duties as healthcare providers also comes the burden of carrying out our

duties to our patients and being true to ourselves. The double edged sword of medical ethics and the

consequences of overstepping the boundaries of right and wrong in the name of the greater good are clearly

explicated in the movie Miss Evers Boys. This film gives a heartrending and true to life depiction of the horrors

of human experimentation on the black minority in Macon County Alabama; in a study which the world came

to know as the Tuskeegee Study and which the Senate Subcommittee on Health decried as outrageous and

intolerable, years after the senate gave tacit consent for the study to be done.

A cursory examination of the Tuskegee study and judgment of the actions of the medical professionals

involved will lead to the initial assertion that their actions towards the participants in this study are vastly

unjust; however a closer look at the motives and principles under which they undertook this endeavour would

highlight that though misguided their actions can be justified. Williams (2015) posits that in addition to acting

in accordance with his or her conscience and in the best interest of their patients the physician must also

guarantee patient autonomy and justice. The actions of the physician and nurse in the Tuskeegee Study can in

this regard be seen as justifiable. In agreeing to carry out the study the doctors and nurse had the patients best

interests at heart. The funding for the previous study had dried up and this was the only way to guarantee that

any type of health care would be given to these men. Additionally the initial agreement was for the study to be

carried out for six months to a year the most after which the men would be the first in line to receive treatment

for the illness. Given these circumstances it can be said that their actions were justifiable; this is so because they

saw the study as the only means for the men to get the needed health care. Also at the heart of the doctors

reason for engaging in the study included the deep-rooted need to wipe out the idea of the mechanism of
disease being related to race (Miss Evers Boys, 1997). The doctors need to facilitate change and their need to

push past the idea of differences can be seen as justifiable and was done with the patients interest at heart.

In reciting the Declaration of Geneva, the physician promises, The health of my patient will be my

first consideration and the Declaration of Helsinki states, while the primary purpose of medical research is to

generate new knowledge, this goal can never take precedence over the rights and interests of individual research

subjects (Williams 2015, pg 29). Each member of the medical profession is governed by the code of ethics

which establishes rules and guidelines which along with the laws of the land and their conscience serve to guide

their conduct within the profession; the Tuskeegee Study in its disregard for these guidelines can be taken as a

misnomer for medical ethics. The actions of both the nurse and doctors involved in the study can be seen as

unethical in several regards. Both the doctors and the nurse within the study set out to deceive the patients from

the initial stages of the study. Patients were not informed that they were not being treated for the illness but

were instead given liniment rubs instead of mercury and vitamins and other supplements to trick them into

believing they were being treated. Hence in so doing they tried to make the men believe nothing had changed

and even went as far as to bribe them with money to get them to participate in the study. These actions amount

to a serious violation of the patients trust and their basic human rights and interests.

This is further compounded by the fact that from as early as 1942 penicillin became available as an

effective treatment for Syphilis and it wasnt used on the patients and lists were sent out to other institutions

with the name of these men to deny them treatment because they were study participants. Additionally even

when their conditions worsened patients were left to deteriorate to the point of blindness, mental illness and

death; this was simply because the doctors believed the only way to validate the data was through autopsy. The

WHO in its publication Ethics in Health Research Notes that where research involves experimentation on

human subjects, every effort should be made to maximize the benefits to the subjects (beneficence), and the

subjects should suffer no harm (non-maleficence).The principle of respect implies that participation in the
research should be completely voluntary and based on informed consent. Where research involves collection of

data on individuals, privacy should be protected by

ensuring confidentiality The principle of justice (distributive justice) implies that participation in the research

should correlate with expected benefits. No population group should carry an undue burden of research for the

benefit of another group ( Ethics in Health Research, Pg 21). Given these principles the rights and welfare of

the patients was compromised by both the doctors and nurse in the Tuskegee Study. This is such as the 412 men

involved in the study suffered harm for the doctors to gather their data, their privacy was violated, they gave

consent not fully knowing what they consented to and they had to carry an undue burden for another group.

Despite whatever efforts which may have been made by the nurse to atone for her actions by sacrificing her

private life and attempting to jeopardize the study by giving a patient insulin her actions were too late after the

fact of these violations.

As professional within the medical field we need to be increasingly aware of our actions and the steps

we take when dealing with patients. At all times we must seek to ask ourselves are my actions ethical and if the

situation was revered would I wish to be treated in a like manner. The Tuskegee Study has engendered a general

mistrust of African Americans and other minorities in the health care system. Sadly their mistrust is not without

cause because often times as care givers our action s are clouded by individual prejudices. It is therefore

important that when certain situations arise we make patients fully aware of their rights and responsibilities and

if needs be contact the necessary authorities and even the media if individual rights are being violated. Also in

our dealings with the old we need to be aware of the mistrust which they have and be patient in explaining their

rights and responsibilities in light of this.

Works Cited

David Feldshuh (1997). Miss Evers' Boys . H.B.O Production Company. Retrieved from

WHO (2017).Ethical standards and procedures for research with human beings. Retrieved from

WHO (nd) Ethics in Health Research, Chapter 2. Retrieved from

Williams John R.(2015), Medical Ethics Manual ,3rd edition. The World Medical Association, Inc. Retrieved