Nurse warns against repeating Tuskegee abuses

Harper
Harper

The last living health care provider involved in the infamous Tuskegee experiment, which followed African-American men with syphilis for 40 years while withholding treatment from a fraction of the cohort, warns that the American public needs to remain alert to comparable abuses that still exist. “I’m concerned that this is still going on,” said Mary Starke Harper, R.N., Ph.D., a student nurse during the research at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. She spoke of her experiences on February 18 as part of the Black History Month commemoration at the School of Nursing. Harper, 82, known nationally and internationally as a patient-care advocate and research consultant in geriatric psychiatry, said that neither she nor the two registered nurses with whom she worked at the time knew which patients were in the experimental control group. The study became a symbol of racism in medicine, ethical misconduct in human research and government abuse of the vulnerable, and led to the National Research Act of 1974.