Peter Buxton – Public Health Service Defendant

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A medical study conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service began in 1932, in order to gather information about African-American men suffering from syphilis in rural Alabama. 399 men had contracted syphilis, and 201 men had not. At the time, the study was intended to last for 6 to 9 months, chronicling the symptoms experienced by victims of an incurable disease.


The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment provided participants with free check-ups, meals, transportation and healthcare products. Taliaferro Clark founded the study, but soon realized the intentions of other leaders within the study, and resigned a year after it began. At that point, he had already gotten Tuskegee University involved in the project. The first data findings were published in a medical journal in 1934. At that point, there was no fully effective treatment for the disease.


In the mid-1940’s, penicillin was becoming a widespread and incredibly effective treatment for sufferers of syphilis throughout the country. Although this type of treatment quickly became the standard in the United States, participants in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment were denied penicillin treatment. Researchers went as far as to deprive participants of information about penicillin treatment, and refuse to allow them to seek any outside medical treatment for their disease.


In 1966, a Public Health Service investigator named Peter Buxtun wrote to the director of the United States Division of Venereal Diseases expressing severe concern about how ethical Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was. The Center for Disease Control responded to him, claiming that it was crucial for the study to be completed. In other words, to continue until all of the participants died.


In 1968, William Carter Jenkins, a statistician for the Public Health Service published in his newsletter entitled The Drum that the study must be stopped, due to overt racism and mistreatment of the participants. His efforts proved ineffective.


Four years later, Peter Buxtun leaked information about the study to a reporter named Jean Heller. The next day, his findings made the front page of the New York Times. He later appeared and testified at Congressional hearings about the experiment. The NAACP filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Government, which eventually had to pay $9 million and offered free medical treatment to surviving participants and family members of participants.
Of the 399 participants, 74 survived the study. 28 men died of syphilis and 100 men died of syphilis-related complications. 40 wives of participants contracted the disease and 19 children of participants were born with it. Peter Buxtun blew the whistle on an illegal, racially motivated experiment that allowed innocent men and families to suffer for 40 years. The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment resulted in the passage of the National Research Act, which regulates all United States medical experiments that have human participants.