Unethical actions by the government medical professionals conducting the study comprised the following: (1) "researchers failed to treat patients appropriately after the 1940s validation of penicillin as an effective cure of the disease;" (2) "scientists prevented participants from accessing syphilis treatment programs available to others in the area;" and (3) "to ensure that the men would show up for the ... non-therapeutic spinal tap, the doctors sent the 400 patients a misleading letter titled, "Last Chance for Special Free Treatment." Additional unethical behavior is described in the Wikipedia article. The tally of medical harm caused by the study ultimately included 28 men dead of syphilis, 100 men dead of syphilis-related complications, 40 women (wives) infected with syphilis, and 19 children born with congenital syphilis.
The United States government response to the unethical actions of United States government medical professionals was, unsurprisingly, to increase United States government power. "Revelation of study failures led to major changes in U.S. law and regulation on the protection of participants in clinical studies." An intriguing tidbit, which I plan to explore in a future blog post, is that fact that exceptions to the U.S. laws and regulations concerning biomedical research are "possible for U.S. Federal agencies which can be kept secret by Executive Order."