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In the West, when one thinks of medical experimentation on unwilling human subjects, the country that comes to mind most readily is Germany under Nazi rule.
Few people think of the United States.
And yet since at least the 1800s, numerous doctors in the United States conducted barbaric experiments, sometimes leading to death, on patients of Afrikan descent. Indeed, grotesque gynecological experimentation on Afrikan women was the 19th century equivalent “boon” to medical science that Nazi medical atrocities were to the 20th century.
Yet while the Nazi regime rose and fell within a generation, Afrikan women and men were subjected to “scientific” Whitesupremacy for hundreds of years. As we’re about to find out, some of that experimentation continued into the modern era, with a mindset whose terrifying results continue to this day.
A few selections from Reuters news service help illustrate the racial gulf in American medical care:
“African Americans continue to receive poorer quality healthcare compared with their white peers, and racial stereotyping by American doctors, nurses and other healthcare providers is at least partly to blame.... Black patients are less likely to receive potentially life-saving treatments [and] were more likely than whites to receive less-desirable treatments, such as limb amputation... or removal of the testes in the case of prostate or testicular cancers.”
Some relevant Reuters headlines include:“Study Finds Racial Differences in US Cancer Care” (March 8, 2003)“Poorer Care for Blacks Found in Medicare HMOs” (March 12, 2003)“Race May Be Factor in Young Patients' Chronic Pain” (March 18, 2003) and“Death Risk Higher in Black Ovarian” (March 15, 2003).
Racial discrimination & health: Pathways & evidence and
Physicians’ Ethical Responsibilities in AddressingRacial and Ethnic Healthcare Disparities
Speaking to extreme racial discrimination in American medicine is Harriet A. Washington. She’s the author of the groundbreaking book Medical Apartheid:The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.
Washington has been a fellow in ethics at the Harvard School of Medicine, a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, a Knight Fellow at Stanford University, and a senior research scholar at the National Centre for Bio-Ethics at Tuskegee University. She has worked for USA Today among other media outlets. Her work has appeared in the Harvard Public Health Review and the New England Journal of Medicine, and has received numerous awards.
Washington’s book Medical Apartheid explores how historians have ignored the vicious reality of race and medicine in the United States, obscuring how the ugliness of racial hatred contaminated the supposedly saintly role of scientists and doctors.
Last week, in part one, we heard about the origins of the regime of medical terror, and the horrific results for its Afrikan subjects. Tonight on the April 16th edition of The Terrordome, we present the conclusion, in which Washington explores the ways in which the terrors of the past have continued in the 21st Century.
Washington spoke as part of a lecture series at the Science Museum of Minnesota, in conjunction with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibit "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race."
Her lecture is part a series at the Science Museum entitled "From Eugenics to Deadly Medicine and Back," a series which began Feb. 27 and which concludes May 4, 2008.
Part 2 of Harriet Washington on Medical Apartheid begins with Washington describing how in the 19th Century, the expectation of the role of doctors was anything but the provision of compassionate medical care for Afrikans in the United States.
Watch Harriet Washington on Democracy Now! below. The transcript is here.
Review by Alondra Nelson, an assistant professor of African American studies and sociology at Yale University, who is writing a book, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Politics of Health and Race.Harriet Washington responds to a critic here.