The National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care is the only Bioethics Center in North America that is mandated by a President of the United States of America. This is the nation’s first Bioethics Center devoted to engaging the sciences, humanities, law and religious faiths in the exploration of the core moral issues which underlie research and medical treatment of African Americans and other underserved people. The official launching of the Bioethics Center took place two years after President William Jefferson Clinton made his apology on May 16, 1997 at the White House to the survivors of the Syphilis Study, Tuskegee University, Tuskegee/Macon County and the nation for the medical experiment officially titled, “The United States Public Service Study of Syphilis in the Untreated Negro Male.”
President Clinton addressed the Syphilis Study was “something that was wrong – deeply, profoundly, and morally wrong. To our African American citizens, I am sorry that your Federal Government orchestrated a study so clearly racist.”
From 1932 to 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service conducted a study involving syphilitic African American (black) men from rural Macon County, Alabama. No Euro American (white) men were included in the study. Over the course of 40-years, scientists tracked the progression of the disease in the participants without ever telling them they had syphilis or informing them of treatment options – even after penicillin had been proven to be a quick and effective cure. In fact, the participants were actually prevented from receiving treatment. The study was stopped only after an Associated Press reporter exposed the unethical methods that were employed upon the African American males by the United States Public Health Service.
In a press release (http://archive.hhs.gov/news/press/2003pres/20031024.html) disseminated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on October 24, 2003, HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson awarded a $14 million grant to Tuskegee University to complete the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Healthcare that was mandated by President Clinton in 1997. Secretary Thompson said, “This national center will serve as a place of excellence that will work to ensure patient protection in our country and provide guidance to other countries around the world. Tuskegee University serves as an ideal place to house this center, both professionally and symbolically. The center will serve as a testament to those who served unjustly in the name of science.”
Within the text of that same press release, the fifth president of Tuskegee University, Benjamin F. Payton, Ph.D. said,” This funding enables us to form a critical mass of scholars and scientists fully committed to the principles and practices of interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research, policy analysis and public discourse, all in the interest of improving public health and health policy. The center will develop and utilize viable synergistic and
collaborative research models and analytic frameworks designed to take into account the neglected concerns of vulnerable populations, and to transform the relatively new field of bioethics into a more inclusive and useful discipline.
Marian Gray Secundy, Ph.D., the first Director of the Bioethics Center at Tuskegee University acknowledged, “The entire history of health care in the United States has been shamefully blighted by a long series of racial inequalities. As a result, a legacy of distrust has been handed down from one generation to the next. But this Bioethics Center bears great hope. It takes us to the critical next step in changing the course of history for people of color.”
Click Play To Watch the video of the apology below.