Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

by Harriet A. Washington


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From the era of slavery to the present day, the first full history of black America’s shocking mistreatment as unwilling and unwitting experimental subjects at the hands of the medical establishment.

Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between black Americans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It reveals how blacks have historically been prey to grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and dissections. Moving into the twentieth century, it shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and the view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. Shocking new details about the government’s notorious Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less-well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, prisons, and private institutions.

The product of years of prodigious research into medical journals and experimental reports long undisturbed, Medical Apartheid reveals the hidden underbelly of scientific research and makes possible, for the first time, an understanding of the roots of the African American health deficit. At last, it provides the fullest possible context for comprehending the behavioral fallout that has caused black Americans to view researchers—and indeed the whole medical establishment—with such deep distrust. No one concerned with issues of public health and racial justice can afford not to read Medical Apartheid, a masterful book that will stir up both controversy and long-needed debate.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780767915472
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 01/08/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 528
Sales rank: 36,184
Product dimensions: 5.45(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.09(d)
Lexile: 1400L (what's this?)

About the Author

HARRIET A. WASHINGTON has been a fellow in ethics at the Harvard Medical School, a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University. As a journalist and editor, she has worked for USA Today and several other publications, been a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and has written for such academic forums as the Harvard Public Health Review and The New England Journal of Medicine. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards for her work. Washington lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Medical Exploitation on the Plantation

Celia’s child, about four months old, died last Saturday the 12th. This is two negroes and three horses I have lost this year. –DAVID GAVIN, 1855

Frederick Gardiner, a peripatetic Mormon physician, left among his travel memoirs an impression of the nineteenth–century slave markets of Washington, D.C.:

There are a great number of Negroes, nearly all of whom are Slaves. And on different Streets are large halls occupied as Marts or stores, for the sale or purchase of Slaves. . . While I have been looking at one of these places on Gravier Street, Two Gentlemen have arrived, one of whom I have Seen in the Saloon, he is a young Planter and come to purchase a girl to take care of his children, or whatever duties he may think proper to impose upon her. The other person is a Doctor whom he has brought with him for the purpose of examining her. They pass along the front of the row in company with the agent or Salesman. As they move forward One is called upon to stand up, then another while a passive examination is made. Then finally he discovers a bright mulatto, who appears about 16 years of age and is quite good looking. She is ushered into a private room where she is stripped to a nude condition and a careful examination is made of all parts of the body by the Dr. and is pronounced by him to be sound. The money is then paid and she is transferred to her new owner…I have heard that the Masters beat and scourge them most cruelly. But I have not seen anything of the kind, nor do I believe that it occurs very often. For the southern people as a class are Noble minded kind hearted people, as can be found in any country…And moreover it would be against their own interests, to brutally treat their Slaves. As no planter desired to have sick negroes on his hands. According to my judgment so far as my experience extends, I believe that the Negroes as a class, are far more humanely treated and taken care of, Than are the laboring classes of European countries (1).

Enslavement could not have existed and certainly could not have persisted without medical science. However, physicians were also dependent upon slavery, both for economic security and for the enslaved “clinical material” that fed the American medical research and medical training that bolstered physicians’ professional advancement. Gardiner’s vignette suggests the integral role of medicine in enslavement and repeats a key belief—that slave owners and physicians shared an interest in preserving the slave’s health, “as no planter desired to have sick negroes on his hands.” But although medicine was essential to enslavement, the apparent solicitude for the health of slaves was not all it seemed. Rather, the medical interests of the slave were often diametrically opposed to the interests of his owner and of American physicians. From the first, antagonism reigned between African Americans and their physicians.

Between the seventeenth–century advent of African settlers to North America and the end of the nineteenth century, the slave and the physician shared an unrecognizably primitive medical world. The “germ theory” that revealed the microbial nature of much disease and led to the first grand waves of disease cures was still well in the future: The existence of pathogens (2) such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi was unsuspected. Almost no effective treatments existed for prevalent diseases until the eighteenth century. Until the late 1830s, the lack of effective anesthesia made the few common surgical procedures horribly painful and all others impossible.

Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, medicine in the United States reflected a narrowly limited understanding of disease and a rather cursory training of medical practitioners. Public–health institutions were few, feeble, and ephemeral, rising momentarily with epidemics of yellow fever or smallpox and subsiding from neglect after the crisis resolved. Even the simplest public–health measures—hand washing and antiseptic techniques, clean water, sound, pathogen–free housing, an untainted food supply, sewage management, and quantitative disease reporting were all in the future. Because there were only a few effective disease therapies and no antibiotics, epidemics of yellow fever, malaria, tuberculosis, and other infectious diseases frequently raged unchecked. In the early 1700s, this mirrored the situation in England and the rest of Europe, but medicine on the Continent began to undergo modernizing changes, although these were very slow to cross the Atlantic. Europe began to embrace public–health measures and medical advances such as widespread vaccination, scientific medical education, and the rise of the hospital, but American progress lagged behind, especially in the insular South.

The point of this chapter’s unflattering précis of nascent American medicine is not to castigate it for its primitivism, but to put blacks’ historical aversion to medical care into context, for most antebellum blacks were subjected to southern medicine.

The South was a particularly unhealthy region and was home to 90 percent of American blacks, the majority of whom were enslaved until 1865. The first blacks arrived in the colonies in 1619, and by 1700 there were only about 20,000 blacks. But as the slave trade flourished, 20,000 more blacks arrived each year. Although 30 percent of transported slaves died in the nightmare of the Middle Passage, there were 550,000 chattel slaves in the United States by 1776, when blacks constituted 20 percent of the U.S. population. By 1807, slave importation was legally prohibited throughout the country, and by 1860, the nation’s four million enslaved blacks had a value equivalent to four billion dollars today. In some states, the black population completely comprised slaves: Alabama, for example, forbade the presence of free blacks.

The South was the nadir of the American medical experience, visited by a deadly triple confluence—the pathogens of North America, Europe, and Africa. This unholy trinity yielded a bewildering array of unfamiliar infectious diseases, such as hookworm, types of malaria, and yellow fever, incubated by a subtropical climate that was hospitable year–round to pathogens that could not thrive in the colder North. Even familiar European illnesses flared anew in strangely virulent forms, abetted by the hot, marshy climate, poor sanitation, and a public–health vacuum. Although the South harbored a highly visible affluent class, the region’s relative poverty led to a dearth of medical care and a host of unrecognized nutritional–deficiency diseases. So did enslavement.

A dramatically misunderstood set of disease etiologies led to the adoption of heroic remedies calculated to kill or cure. Through the eighteenth century, Western medicine was not only misinformed but dangerously so. Caustic medicines of the period often contained metabolic poisons such as arsenic, or calomel, (3) a compound of mercury and chlorine that was used as a purgative. Many other remedies contained highly toxic substances such as mercury and addictive Schedule II narcotics, including the opiates laudanum, (4) opium, and morphine, as well as cocaine derivatives. These medicines addicted, sickened, or killed outright; they also could trigger chemical pneumonitis, or progressive lung injury, if inhaled during a bout of iatrogenic, or physician–triggered, vomiting. No studies seem to have been done on this point, but such lung injuries may have helped to account for slaves’ higher death rate from respiratory disease.

Induced vomiting was an everyday event because the common denominator of medical techniques in this period was the violent release of bodily fluids. Copious bleeding, blistering, and the induction of violent diarrhea were standard therapies. Harsh laxatives or “draughts” such as calomel or jalap (5) produced copious diarrhea, which leached nutrients, water, and electrolytes from the body. They also invited painful bedsores, which were open to infection unchallenged by antibiotics. These crude therapies were not only unpleasant but debilitating to ill persons and even to the strong and healthy. Arsenic, for example, produced not only the intended vomiting and diarrhea but also a wide range of other problems, including fainting, heart disease, disorders of the nervous system, gangrene, and cancers (6). Mercury’s very serious effects included injury to the nervous system, profound mental deficits, hair and tooth loss, kidney and heart disease, lung injury, and respiratory distress. Mercury crossed the placental barrier and concentrated in breast milk, contributing to the high black infant–death and birth–defect rates (7).

Such ministrations were often fatal. The 1799 death of George Washington, hastened by a copious bloodletting the debilitated former president could ill afford, is perhaps the best–known example of a patient finished off by the misguided heroics of eighteenth–century medicine. However, whites of the slave–owning class enjoyed better initial health, better nutrition, and less exposure to environmental pathogens and parasites than did enslaved blacks. Slave owners did not suffer from overwork and exposure, so they were better able than slaves to withstand the rigors of bloodletting. Sensing this, many physicians and scientists discouraged bloodletting for slaves. Thomas Jefferson, statesman and amateur physician–scientist, wrote unequivocally, “Never bleed a negro.” (8) But in their everyday practices, physicians didn’t listen. Dr. Lunsford Yandell wrote, “On March 16, 1833 I was called before sunrise to visit a Negro woman. I took from her twelve ounces of blood…I waited about fifteen minutes when she had a severe convulsion.” (9) Such techniques as cupping (the use of heated glass jars to create a partial vacuum that drew blood upward to the skin’s surface or through an incision in the skin) and trephination (the therapeutic drilling of holes in the skull) were risky for pampered, well–nourished adults living in relatively healthy environments. But they were fatal attentions for sickly, undernourished, and exhausted slaves and for their children, who were at even higher risk of succumbing to anemia or dehydration.

Enslaved African Americans were more vulnerable than whites to respiratory infections, thanks to poorly constructed slave shacks that admitted winter cold and summer heat. Slaves’ immune systems were unfamiliar with, or naïve to, microbes that caused various pneumonias and tuberculosis. Parasitic infections and abysmal nutrition also undermined blacks’ immunological rigor. Before antibiotics and sterile technique, surgery was an often-fatal affair. Unaware of the connection between bacteria and infection, surgeons operated in their street clothes and with dirty hands in filthy environments, such as the shacks that served as “slave hospitals.” Even minor incisions or injuries could proceed to life threatening infections with frightening rapidity.

Southern medicine of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was harsh, ineffective, and experimental by nature. Physicians’ memoirs, medical journals, and planters’ records all reveal that enslaved black Americans bore the worst abuses of these crudely empirical practices, which countenanced a hazardous degree of ad hoc experimentation in medications, dosages, and even spontaneous surgical experiments in the daily practice among slaves.

Physicians were active participants in the exploitation of African American bodies. The records reveal that slaves were both medically neglected and abused because they were powerless and legally invisible; the courts were almost completely uninterested in the safety and health rights of the enslaved (10). The practice of hiring slaves out further endangered enslaved workers by removing much of an employer’s incentive to keep the slave healthy and safe. Some humane plantation owners were careful to choose less risky work venues, but a great danger of slave death or disability was inherent in some forms of mining, tobacco production, rice farming, and most plantation work. In these settings, the slave’s possible death became part of his owner’s commercial calculations. Ominously for blacks, the owners, not the enslaved workers, determined safety and rationed medical care, deciding when and what type of care was to be given. Because professional attention was expensive, most owners dosed their own slaves as long as they could before calling in physicians, who usually saw slaves only in extremis, as a last resort. In clinical notes, medical journals, and memoirs, physicians consistently decried the planters’ tendency to rely upon the cheaper ministrations of overseers, slaves, and mistresses in order to save expense. Physicians’ records also expressed disgust at the conditions in which enslaved workers were kept. Historian Richard Shryock observed in 1936: “Of all critics, the Southern physician was perhaps in the best position to report on the physical and moral treatment of the slaves. When he stated, as he sometimes did, that Negroes were overworked and underfed, he can hardly be suspected of antislavery bias since he was the friend of the planter who employed him. As a matter of fact, he usually approved of the institution.” (11) Planters’ own records and slave narratives corroborate physicians’ complaints that planters provided professional medical care only when they deemed it necessary to save the slave’s life—often too late.

Owners also restricted access to medical care by routinely accusing sick blacks of malingering. Slave narratives and planters’ records reveal that an owner faced with a sick slave was likely to believe the illness was feigned. In her excellent and nuanced history, Working Cures: Healing Health and Power on Southern Slave Plantations, Sharla Fett describes how, in 1859, slave owner William Massie resentfully recorded that his eighty–year–old slave “Patty” had just died “of I know not what disease…She has been saying she was sick for near a year and always pretended to be sick.” No doctor was ever summoned to investigate, and not even Patty’s death seems to have exonerated her from charges of malingering (12). The enfeebled Patty was no longer valuable in the fields or as a “breeder,” so the nature of her sickness was inconsequential.

Owners relied upon doctors to tell them whether slaves were malingering, but physicians were less than objective. Dr.W. H. Taylor, called in consultation for an enslaved man, prefaced his assessment with the phrase “remembering that simulation was a characteristic of his race” (13). Doctors and owners wrote articles in which they shared medical ruses and techniques calculated to get blacks, healthy or not, back into the fields. Dr. M. L.McLoud even wrote his master’s thesis on the fraudulent illnesses of slaves (14). He shared an incident in which he had accidentally administered an overdose of ammonium carbonate, (15) a corrosive white powder that was often used as smelling salts, to a slave shamming an epileptic fit. The burning sensation shocked her into abandoning her performance, and McLoud, like many other doctors, began to advocate such veiled medical violence when confronted with questionable illness in slaves (16). But masters also responded to suspected malingering or prolonged illness with frank abuse. Thomas Chaplin wrote in his planter’s journal, “Mary came out [of the sick house] today or rather was whipped out.” Owners and physicians also blurred the therapeutic line by referring jocularly to whipping as “medicine” for malingering slaves. One complaining woman was “treated with a cowskin or hickory switch to scourge her” [emphasis added]; other doctors recommended that an owner apply “9 drops of essence of rawhide” or “oil of hickory” (17) to the back of a sick slave.

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Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Though it focuses on human rights crimes by the medical community against African Americans, a lot more is covered including the overall eugenics issues against people that were deemed unfit, and much, much, more on the culture of imposing human slavery, of subjugation. The author is unbiased mentioning black on black human rights crimes in the medical profession, corruption in the NAACP at some point, as well as the eugenicists going after "poor white women," that lived in African American neighborhoods during that time period when eugenicists were a strong force. The worst happened in the southern states, according to the book. The main underlying theme is the horrors of slavery that can be seen also apart from the African American community whether it exists in a communist government or a fascist, military dictatorship or in a "democracy" such as the USA. I am halfway through this nonfiction and it is quite difficult to stomach (as a lot of it reads much worse than a horror film) such as inept doctors performing human experimentation (i.e., gynecological surgery, unecessary limb removal, etc.) on live southern US slaves without the use of anesthesia on the slave patients during the 19th Century. Supposedly, according to this book, this was done to instill fear to prevent a slave rebellion and unethical doctors that did these horrific experiments were promoted. One unethical medical doctor of that time period is currently seen by the medical community with a statue of himself on Central Park's Fifth Avenue (New York City actually had the largest African slave trade due to the ports, and shipped many to the southern states). Mentioned is that the doctors could have been ethical and not abused patients, and could have used anesthesia on those that needed surgery, but subjugation of African Americans for slavery was a major factor. Most of the heinous human rights crimes against African American originated and was worse in the southern states making one think that southerners are to blame for most of it, and that when they go into trades such as the FBI or CIA, that they further their subjugation of those they consider inferior or want to enslave through secret experimentation through those agenices in the USA and abroad. I actually had heard of many of these stories in this nonfiction prior to reading this book, but this book has a lot of information that I was unaware of. As with other human rights issues, it seems to start from the top down, lousy government/presidential leadership that does not protect all of the people and does not set a standard of good ethics, and the many do-gooders that did not do more to prevent the horrors. This nonfiction makes one think about what may have happened to African slaves in South America at the hands of the medical community there in the 19th Century, what may be happening/happened in communist countries, fascist countries, etc. It also causes one to see the whole slavery scene as some sort of demonic existence that feeds on its own miseries. and likes to be displayed in statues... Other nonfiction I recommend: "Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant," by Jonathan Peter Spiro (University of Vermont Press, 2009).
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is not for the faint hearted. Ms. Washington has done her research, verified her findings and authenticated all of the information presented in this book. Her professional credentials validate her as an author and researcher and her passion guided her to put her findings in this book for the world to gain from her efforts. Denise Grady pointed out in her NY Times January 23, 207 article, White Doctors, Black Subjects: Abuse Disguised as Research, 'Even so, Ms. Washington implies that the 'AIDS' vaccine did have promise for minorities but was abandoned purely because it did not help whites. If there is evidence to justify sinking more money into this vaccine, she 'Ms. Washington' does not provide it.' Maybe Ms. Washington could have written more on the details of some of the findings of the modern experiments but I believe the book definitely gives the readers more than a taste of the atrocities levied on people of African descent in America. Medical Apartheid is factually written by a person who has diligently researched the topics and issues addressed in the book. She leaves no stone unturned and not only points you in the direction to find out more on your own but takes you there and waits for you to see the facts for yourself. Medical Apartheid is not for the faint hearted but it should open much needed dialogue in the African American community because we are dying, no killing ourselves because we shy away from getting proper medical care. Read this book for yourself and share the information with your elders and those generations following your lead.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very intersting reading. If you like history & medicine you will really enjoy this book. A lot of fact that are given in this book I had never heard of before.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Book: MEDICAL APARTHIED, first came to my attention recently when I viewed the author, Harriet Washington, in an interview about the book on the News Program ' Dmocracy Now' The interview can be viewed or the transcript read at: She was interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Miss Washington is a brilliant and eloquent scholar who took the audience step by step documenting the horrific atrocities of medical experimentation on African Amercians and people of color. It was disclosed that this book is the only one of its kind in this genre. It seems destined to become a classic in the field and heralds the arrival of Miss Washington as one of the leading scholars in this area where she has devoted much of her career. Perhaps, an unintended consequence of this book is that it opens an unfiltered window into understanding the psychology of racism in a way that has rarely been done before. It unmasks the chilling reality that society has to defined as set of people less than human in order to sacrifice 'those people' on the altar of 'scientific Progress'. No doubt this scholarly work may add perspectives and inquiries in the related fields of Critical Race Theory among others. For the actively engaged citizen, this book may be indespensible for although Miss Washington's book documents the history of medical experimentation on African Americans, this problem in by no means solved. She indicates that a 1996 law still allows TODAY, medical experimentation unkwowingly and without consent on persons visiting the emergency rooms of America. Thus, Miss Washington's book my serve as a basis for a serious public policy discussion in the area of human experimentation, research, Race, consent and medical ethics with our elected officials in government.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't know what book the reviewer who gave this a 2 rating read¿oh, that's right, he DIDN'T READ IT, after all. No wonder he is anonymous. By the way, the New York Times Science Times review he cites was glowing and positive. The non-reading reviewer gives a misleading description of the New York Times review which says that she is the right person to have written this important book. But I had already gone out and bought the book after reading the Publishers Weekly and Kirkus reviews, because the topic is intriguing and every one of the reviews of this book was laudatory, just full with praise. In fact, I have been reading rave reviews of this book in the Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones and Kirkus rviews and Publishers Weekly which named it one of the best books of the year. But the naysaying reviewer probably did not read these, either. The author trained as a research fellow in medical ethics at Harvard Medical School and studied at Harvard School of Public Health and Stanford. She offers a very careful, sophisticated analysis of many medical topics . Medical Apartheid is very copiously documented with medical- journal articles, historical records and original writings by researchers, admitting wroingdoing in their own words. IF YOU READ THE BOOK, you see that she offered a more nuanced analysis of the AIDS vaccine debate and ethics that the NYT reviewer seems not to have understood. She is also not against medical research, she states this very, very clearly in the book. In sum this is a detailed informative thought-provoking book, very compellingly written. Although it is not always easy to read about the abuses , it was certainly worth it. A profound and important work, as everyone who has read it agrees.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is defiantly a must read for everyone. You will really view the medical field differently.
She_vus More than 1 year ago
This book is very informative, easy to read, excellent for research. If you want to know the truth about healthcare, why we need a reform, you need to read this book!
MHMD2B More than 1 year ago
I have learned a lot from reading this book. Reading this book has shown me that there are many things that I have to learn about this country and world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a doctor and a researcher, and this book opened my eyes to a shameful side of my profession and of American society that I never knew. As Harriet Washington writes, we have to come to terms with the past and understand it in order to create a more hopeful future. Reading this book I now better understand the distrust that many African American patients have of the medical and research establishment. I'm confident that knowing this history will allow me and many others to take these concerns more seriously and help mend this terrible and needless division. Having read the book, and from my perspective as a medical professional, I would just like to echo the praise in the Kirkus and Publisher's Weekly reviews above. This an important, groundbreaking book that deserves its having been named one of the best books of the year. This book will surely ruffle some feathers in the medical establishment and make some of us defensive. However, we have to take this book and the information in it seriously. The author's credentials are solid. She has been affiliated with Harvard in the medical ethics and public health departments, and at the University of Tuskegee in bioethics. She cites articles she has written on this subject going back many years, and the book is meticulously documented for those of us who want to look up articles and probe even further. In sum, I am grateful to the author for reminding me of how important medical ethics rules, codes and protections for patients and research subjects are. For those of us who grumble about these sometimes because, well, they make our job harder in some ways--reading this book will 'cure' that feeling. It will remind us why it's absolutely critical that we uphold these protections for our patients and research participants. And for the rest of America--if you're curious to discover a fuller history of our country and how a pattern of abuse affects relationships between American communities even today, this book will fill a major gap. Acknowledging the past is better than covering up a wound until it festers. I sincerely hope 'Medical Apartheid' leads us all--whatever tint our skin and whatever our personal history--toward understanding and healing.
Anonymous 8 months ago
tymfos on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is such a grim book that it took me a rather long time to get through. Harriet Washington has researched the history of medical studies using people of African origin or descent from slavery times through the present. It appears to be thoroughly researched and well documented. Washington cites a need for honesty in dealing with the issue for the sake of current research efforts with African Americans -- who appear reluctant to serve as medical research subjects in even legitimate and ethical studies. She argues that such reluctance is not just fallout from the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study, as many white people claim, but is the result of a long-standing pattern of medical abuses toward subjects with dark skin.Many -- no most -- of the stories here are truly ugly, the abuses blatant and obvious, the racial bias clear. Those are the most powerful (and upsetting) stories. Then there are those situations where the abuse or the bias is more subtle. In a few cases, Washington seems to tiptoe on the borders of working both sides of the issue re: the need for participation vs. the appropriateness of the studies. While this sometimes illustrated the difficulty of conducting truly fair and ethical experiments, sometimes it appeared to this reader that the author was pushing the issue in cases where the ethics were ambiguous at worst -- for instance, terminally ill prisoners who consented to highly risky procedures because they knew they would be dead in a few weeks barring a true medical miracle. Inclusion of such cases hardly seemed necessary, as there was more than enough obviously unethical material to make her point.This is not at all a pleasant book to read, but it is a real eye-opener.
JFBallenger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a sweeping account of the long, tragic history of the abuse of African Americans in medical research. The shocking nature of the abuses described in this book, along with the sheer quantity of them, is nearly overwhelming. But Washington does much more than merely shock the reader; she helps us to understand why the black community has been so distrustful of medicine and the health care system -- which tragically worsens the health disparities between blacks and whites -- and argues that restoring that trust must begin with an honest accounting of the wrongs that have been done. The one major criticism I have of the book is, in describing some of the more recent episodes, its tendency to understate the role of socioeconomic class discrimination in order to continue pressing the issue of race. To be sure, class discrimination has meant that blacks have been overrepresented, there is a meaningful distinction to make between medical abuses motivated by racism and/or racist medical theory, and medical abuses that disproportionately affect blacks by taking advantage of the vulnerability of people in poverty. But this is a relatively small criticism of what is a powerful and important book that should be read by anyone concerned with social justice and ethical research.
jgv6442 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting book. It can get a little dry in places, but that is to be expected from a medical history book and is more than made up for by the way the book sheds light on little known corners of history. I opened this book expecting the bulk of it to deal with the well-known Tuskegee Syphillis experiment, but as the book itself points out this was just the tip of the ice-burg of medical experimentation in America. A fascinating and worth-while read.
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