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Stanford Prison Experiment And The Era of Unethical Research

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The malpractice and distrust of physicians, Doctors, and clinical researchers has caused for uneasiness on both sides of the argument on medicine and clinical research. The topic of malpractice is not limited to practicing medicine, of course. Many researchers conduct experiments in order to attain the wealth of knowledge; however, this different path may not always dissuade them from any type of malpractice. There have been many studies that have been subject to different types of malpractice and unethical research on humans. Such studies have included the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, the Little Albert Experiment, and the Stanford Prison Experiment. The full ramifications of these experiments were not fully disclosed to the participants, along with the lack of unbiased consent being given; therefore, many of these participants were either injured, killed, or abused both physically and mentally during the experiments. Clinical research of high magnitude that involves human test subjects should be overseen by a type of health and wellness agency throughout the entire experiment, regardless of an increase in tax rate, to ensure their physical and emotional safety, along with making sure that they are aware of the risks that come with experimentation.

Medical malpractice is defined as any act or omission by a medical professional that deviates from the accepted medical standard of care, where the act of negligence is usually the main cause of malpractice.[footnoteRef:0] Over the past 30 years, medical malpractice has become one of the most difficult healthcare issues in the United States since medical malpractice premiums total more than $5 billion each year.[footnoteRef:1] For cases to be considered as medical malpractice, these three characteristics must be examined: violations of standard care, injuries caused by negligence, and injuries that resulted in significant damages.[footnoteRef:2] A violation of standard care can stem from a patient having the belief that their personal health care professional did not deliver care that was consistent with the certain medical standards that are upheld by the law.[footnoteRef:3] A patient’s claim for negligence from a healthcare professional is not enough for the majority of medical malpractice lawsuits to be filed; therefore, the patient must be able to provide evidence of injury that was caused from the negligence of the professional in order to have a favorable chance of success.[footnoteRef:4] The negative aspect of a patient wanting to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against their health care provider are the significant amount of damages that accrue. Medical malpractice lawsuits are commonly known to be very expensive, and in most cases, the costs of filing and going through the case will eventually become more costly than the total amount of the recovery itself.[footnoteRef:5] This is why the patient must provide enough evidence of how their injury resulted in significant damages that outweigh the cost of the case (disability, loss of income, medical bills, etc).[footnoteRef:6] Medical malpractice was prominent in the era where researchers abused their participants in the experiments by exploiting them to dangers that satisfy the characteristics, since it was done onto underserved populations who did not know that they were going to be abused during experimentation. [0: ] [1: ] [2: ] [3: ] [4: ] [5: ] [6: ]

Although having to report the entirety of the experiment to a health and wellness agency, such as a revised form of an Institutional Review Board (IRB) would enforce research requiring human test subjects to be ethical, additional funding would need to be provided in order to have these types of agencies in place. Therefore, this would ultimately cause for an increase in tax rate for U.S citizens, thus contradicting these health and wellness agencies overseeing research experiments. Having health and wellness agencies in order to ensure that researchers are staying within ethical standards does not come without a price. The agencies could either be government-funded or private, funded by an outside party. These private agencies would have to become accredited by the state in order to supervise research experiments. While the main motive of these private groups would be to fund research they believe in, they would have to ensure that the research stays ethical by taking on the same role as a government-funded agency; however, these outside parties must avoid providing input into the experiment since it would cause a bias to negatively affect the experiment. If they choose to not avoid bias, then they may feel obligated to withdraw their funding, which would cause for the researchers of the experiment to look for another private agency that would provide both funding and an ethical policy that the researchers must abide to. Essentially, if an experiment is being funded by a private agency, they cannot work or review any of the experiments being conducted since it would prove that a bias has been formed.

Having the private agencies take a step back in their direct involvement of experimentation is one tough aspect, but actually finding a private agency to fund an experiment where they cannot even put the slightest bit of input is even tougher. Besides the point of trying to attain either a government or private agency to oversee these research experiments, maybe the researchers do need to “stretch the limits” of their research in order to attain the wealth of knowledge necessary to make an impact on the medical community. While the increase in tax rate would be a problem that would not suit well with U.S citizens, having ethical research matters more. The cons of an increase in tax dollars do not outweigh the health and wellness of humans. If there is still a pushback, identifying certain non-profit organizations that simply believe in the research should able to fund the research along with making sure that the researchers stay within their ethical boundaries by instilling their own form of an IRB and looking after the board. In essence, the lives and well-being of any human along with maintaining one’s rights trump any increase in monetary value whatsoever.

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The value of trust is emphasized highly in this world since it enables reassurance in one another. The African-Americans that participated in the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male were lied to about their present illness and were even deceived to participate in experimentation so that physicians and other researchers could be led on the path of finding a cure to syphilis for as cheap as possible.[footnoteRef:7] This caused for the African-Americans that participated to experience physical distress throughout the entirety of the experiment. The way the United States Public Health Service conducted the Tuskegee Study started the era of suspicion and distrust in physicians.[footnoteRef:8] When a series of sampling showed that 35% of the black population were infected with syphilis, the United States Public Health Service started a program that would diagnose and treat 10,000 African Americans with the disease; however, funding for this program was scarce, with only about 1,400 African-Americans receiving any type of treatment.[footnoteRef:9] The same organization that started on this project ended up taking a proposal that would involve the deception of their human test subjects, where the nature of their illness would not be known.[footnoteRef:10] When the research with syphilis first was conducted, racism was still a major issue. Initially, these researchers believed that blacks tolerated syphilis better and were less harmed by it than whites with no predetermined evidence to support this opinion.[footnoteRef:11] This widely held opinion with no factual evidence shows how a bias was initiated before experimentation, and how this group of innocent African-Americans was majorly harmed, proving as to why this study was unethical. This project was under no other supervision, as there were no other precautions to follow from an outside source. Instead, they performed this type of research on an underserved minority population at their own will. Overhead supervision from another agency keeping “tabs” on the research being performed could have prevented any type of malpractice on this underserved group. About 10 years after the study had started, Penicillin became readily available in order to cure the syphilis, but this treatment was not considered since the researchers did not want to skew the results of the experiment.[footnoteRef:12] This study has done nothing but provide a lack of trust between the African-American and medical community. Even today, there are still some African-Americans that do not like going to see their physician since they believe that they will not receive proper treatment and care. [7: ] [8: ] [9: ] [10: ] [11: ] [12: ]

Emotional distress can sometimes become more harmful than physical distress since psychological impairment can last a lifetime. Related to the subject of psychology, classical conditioning is a method where one learns through association by having two stimuli that are interlinked together in order to produce a newly learned response.[footnoteRef:13] John Watson was a renowned psychologist who began to use classical conditioning as a research tool that became necessary for psychological research experiments.[footnoteRef:14] The goal of Watson’s experiment was to instill a type of conditioned response in a child in order to develop a fear or phobia towards an outside stimulus.[footnoteRef:15] The method that this experiment stated it would undergo would not become approved for study in today’s world; however, this experiment took place in the 1920s, where experiments were not being screened for ethical purposes as they are today.[footnoteRef:16] Little Albert’s mother was an employee at the hospital where the research was going to be conducted.[footnoteRef:17] This allowed for representatives of the research experiment to consult with her about having her son participate due to the convenience of having him on site, along with the fact that Albert was known to be an unemotional child who rarely cried.[footnoteRef:18] The researchers were impressed by Albert’s ability to experience “relatively little harm” during the entire experiment; however, this decision backfired.[footnoteRef:19] Albert’s mother was reluctant of letting him participate until the representatives coerced her into making him into a participant.[footnoteRef:20] The amount of money that Albert’s mother would be receiving for having him participate along with the fear of losing her job swayed her into agreeing. The experiment required for Albert, who was 11-months old at the time, to become conditioned to fear a white laboratory rat.[footnoteRef:21] While instilling a certain phobia in a child was already harmful enough, the researchers of the experiment did not consider the life-altering effects that Albert would have after the experiment had been completed. The main criticism for this experiment stems from the fact that Watson failed to decondition Albert to the white laboratory rat when he originally planned to do so in order to further aid his research to show that a conditioned stimulus could eventually be removed if necessary.[footnoteRef:22] Instead, Albert left the experiment with a harmful phobia that he did not have before he began to participate in the experiment. The fact that Watson and his fellow researchers did not even attempt to abolish Albert’s phobia shows that they were negligent of the phobia that they caused Albert to develop. This experiment was not ethical to begin with since the main objective of the experiment was to instill emotional distress in a child that could impair the child for the rest of his/her life. Supervision from an agency would have never allowed for this type of research to be conducted, especially on a young child. The experiment on Albert has now caused for more caution on research involving any type of neurological experimentation, thus furthering the stigma around mental health disorders such as PTSD and anxiety. [13: ] [14: ] [15: ] [16: ] [17: ] [18: ] [19: ] [20: ] [21: ] [22: ]

Newly gained power must not be abused so that there may be a sense of balance and peace between people. Unfortunately, this was not the case in the Stanford Prison Experiment. The participants in this experiment included college males, who ended up experiencing both physical and emotional distress throughout the experiment. This is a famous experiment that had the initial motive of showing how powerful social situations can cause for young men to behave in a vicious manner.[footnoteRef:23] The experiment required for normal college males to become divided into two random groups: the prisoner group or the guard group.[footnoteRef:24] An ex-con named Carlos Prescott was even consulted by the research group in order to gain a realistic perspective of what the prison system was actually like.[footnoteRef:25] This was done to make sure that the male students participating felt as if they were apart of the prison system themselves. The overall goal of this experiment was to demonstrate the evil that good people can be pressured into committing onto other good people, due to their new sense of power and the amount of damage they can cause with it.[footnoteRef:26] This experiment took a turn for the worst, as the intended two-week study only lasted all of six days since the majority of the men participating began to behave in a pathological manner.[footnoteRef:27] The prisoners felt completely powerless and were abused by the guards in the experiment, which goes to show that the attitudes of people change when given power. This experiment was unethical from the start since verbal and physical abuse became utilized by the participants, who were still young and impressionable. While this experiment may have not been long-lasting, it still counts as a very abusive experiment under harsh conditions since it subjected the prisoners to a traumatic experience for seemingly no reason. A huge risk in the experiment was the violence of all the participants involved, due to the very abusive nature of the experiment. A superior health and wellness agency overseeing the experiment from start to finish would have immediately shut this project down simply due to the abusive nature the participants took on. [23: ] [24: ] [25: ] [26: ] [27: ]

All three of these experiments involving negligence from those conducting the experiments can be attributed to the lack of overhead supervision from a health and wellness agency, that work in tandem with an institution’s IRB if the research were to be conducted at an academic facility. The three research experiments discussed each should have utilized a type of health and wellness agency in order to oversee the research, regardless of whether it was government or privately funded. Specific laws set in place would have prevented discrimination and the abuse of an underserved population in the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. Even in today’s research era, any type of clinical research involving test subjects with the same disease being tested should be subject to approval from the state in order to prevent any future harm onto these groups. As for the Little Albert and Stanford Prison Experiment, laws and regulations in place at the time would have prevented the acts of the both monetary and persuasive coercion, which may include both instilling a threat along with the use of “blackmail.”

Overall, maintaining the health and wellness of these patients is crucial in order to prevent traumatic experiences. The researchers that ran the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, the Little Albert experiment, and the Stanford Prison Experiment all violated the rights of the patients involved in both physical and emotional aspects, while not ensuring that they were aware of the risks that came along with participating. The inclusion of the agencies would have protected each of the participants, and kept the researchers honest. Each of these experiments exposed them to trauma, which proved to be unethical. In conclusion, high magnitude clinical research studies involving human test subjects should be approved and overseen by a governing agency throughout the entirety of the experiment in order to meet ethical standards that satisfy confidentiality, protection, and consent.

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Stanford Prison Experiment And The Era of Unethical Research. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 8, 2023, from
“Stanford Prison Experiment And The Era of Unethical Research.” Edubirdie, 18 Mar. 2022,
Stanford Prison Experiment And The Era of Unethical Research. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 8 Dec. 2023].
Stanford Prison Experiment And The Era of Unethical Research [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Mar 18 [cited 2023 Dec 8]. Available from:
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