Historically, African-Americans, Native Americans and other minorities have been excluded from clinical trials that seek to uncover risk factors for disease and offer life-saving new treatments. The infamous federally funded Tuskegee syphilis experiment—shut down in 1972—denied treatment to hundreds of African-American men suffering from the disease.
The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was conducted by government-funded researchers from the Tuskegee Institute between 1932 and 1972 in Macon County, Alabama to examine the progression of syphilis in poor African-American men. When penicillin was discovered as an effective medication for the disease in 1947, researchers refused to administer it, choosing instead to continue the study. In 1972, journalist Jean Heller broke the story and an enraged public forced the researchers to put an end to the study. Government inquiries condemned the study as unethical and in 1973, a class-action lawsuit was filed on behalf of the study participants. In 1974, a $10 million settlement was reached, and all living participants were promised lifetime medical benefits by the U.S. government.