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Laboratory Horrors

Ninety-four-year-old Herman Shaw, one of the unknowing patients in the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, speaks during ceremonies at the White House in 1997 in which U.S. President Bill Clinton apologized to the survivors and families of the victims of the study.

© PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images

During the mid-20th century, the United States Public Health Service was doing wonders to advance disease prevention and to promote healthy living. It was also purposely infecting people with a horrific sexually transmitted disease called syphilis.

In 1966, a new health service employee named Peter Buxtun was tasked with investigating venereal diseases. He soon realized that the government was working with the Tuskegee Institute to conduct an experiment in which hundreds of impoverished black men in Alabama were infected with the disease -- while the subjects themselves thought they were receiving free health care.

Buxtun filed a complaint, but he was told that the experiment wasn't yet complete. After being rebuffed a second time, he leaked his story to the press and it immediately became headline news across the country. A congressional hearing was arranged and the experiment was ended, although too late to save hundreds of men and their children from years of suffering.

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