In 1932, the U.S. government began offering free healthcare to African-Americans in Macon County, Alabama. There had been a severe outbreak of syphilis, and it looked as if the government was there to help.
Promising hot meals, free medical exams and burial insurance, the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) easily enlisted 600 black men — 399 with latent syphilis and 201 free of the disease. Doctors from PHS told participants they were being treated for 'bad blood'.
Known officially as the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, this PHS experiment was literally designed to observe untreated black patients as syphilis wreaked havoc on their bodies. The men, however, didn't know they were participating in an experiment, and were lied to about their actual diagnosis. Physicians in Macon County were given a list of the subjects and instructed to refer them to the Public Health Service if they sought medical treatment.
When penicillin was proven to be a safe and highly effective cure for syphilis in 1947 (becoming widely available by 1955) the PHS continued to keep the men in the dark about their now treatable disease.
Over the years, the men began to experience the later tertiary phase of syphilis, and the government doctors watched and took notes as these men slowly began to suffer organ failure, go blind, develop dementia, paralysis and eventually die.
The experiment went on until 1972, when a whistleblower leaked information to The New York Times.
Same as it ever was... The government doctors, scientists and bureaucrats who ran the Tuskegee experiment went on to great success in their careers. No one has faced punishment for what was done.
What We'll Never Know