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Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black… (2006)

de Harriet A. Washington

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5981129,210 (4.3)33
The first comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between Africans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the way both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without a hint of informed consent--a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and a view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. New details about the government's Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, and private institutions. This book 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.--From publisher description.… (més)
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The history in this book is so shocking and thought-provoking, and now that we are in the middle of COVID-19, I would love to see an updated version dealing with the inequality around this pandemic. ( )
  bookwyrmm | Feb 19, 2021 |
(46) This was a well-written account of the U.S. medical system's abuses of people of color form the time of slavery until present day (which is 2006 when the book was going to press.) Most compelling but not shocking really were experiments done on black people in the antebellum and pre-Civil rights South. Other experiments were said to be abusive towards blacks because they used the disenfranchised or the incarcerated that are sadly more likely to be people of color. When I got to information I knew such as experiments regarding birth control methods, I started to feel a bit differently towards the book as all details regarding the 'abusive' nature of the experiments were cherry-picked to make things appear in the worst possible light. For example, Depo-Provera, that "known carcinogen," that was preferentially studied in women of color, happens to be still on the market today and used by women of all hues. Some things tend to be studied in 'urban' (code-word for black per the author) women because they are proximate and using the services of the academicians who conduct the research -- and not for any nefarious racist reasons.

Anyway, after I read with a gimlet eye the authors's perception of contraceptive research as aiming to "sterilize" women of color, I began to wonder a bit more about how everything was portrayed. To be sure, I don't doubt the overall premise of the author's book, but I think in particular the more modern-day post Civil rights era examples I suspect are presented decidedly one-sided.

Anyway, I am glad I read and I am glad the medical students where I teach were asked to read this. In the present time, it seems to me, medical apartheid refers to the have and the have-nots with poor rural whites suffering as much as poor blacks. Teaching and research hospitals tend to care for the poor as no one else will. Their NIH funding serves as a buffer, but the doctors and nurses are underpaid and make do without sophisticated resources to do things "right" like the private sector. And the private sector is where the upper middle class whites and blacks go for their care; where research is simply not offered as physicians an nurses are compensated reasonably and have no interest or need to 'make a name for themselves' in any other way besides good patient care. However, I digress. This book makes me sad about health care economics. ( )
  jhowell | Oct 20, 2019 |
After reading medical history for a few years I have become accustomed to the fact that until about 200 years ago physicians offered nothing more than comfort and false hope. Thanks to Harriet Washington’s book, “Medical apartheid : the dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans from colonial times to the present“ I realized that many patients, even today, are still only offered false hope in spite of effective treatments being available and that their comfort, their health, is considered irrelevant against the quest for gain. As soon as scientific methods allowed for the development of effective treatments people with no power to resist became the unwilling, and often unknowing, test subjects in the competition for personal and corporate profits. Hopefully this book will do for medical research what the Rodney King video did for law enforcement.

I came to read this book for my research into early 19th century medical training. It helped me document what I suspected, anatomy classes dissected primarily black bodies. Hundreds of black bodies being robbed of their eternal slumber was as ineffective then at grabbing the attention of legislatures and law enforcement as hundreds of black bodies being gunned down in our streets is today. Having grown up in the United States I knew what to expect from the popular opinion of the WASP majority. I did not expect the persistent ignorance that is racism to be practiced by educated physicians .

Washington’s writing and research are excellent although I do have a few very minor problems with the book. When discussing the ethnic imbalance in medical studies Washington mentions a study with majority African American subjects in a majority African American city. Isn’t proportional representation what we should strive for? Perhaps there was another flaw in that study’s methodology but I did not see it mentioned in the text. When discussing African American’s over representation as subjects in prison studies the passing mention of the fact that African Americans are proportionately over represented in the prison population compared to the general population seemed to me to be understated . Although the over incarceration of minority citizens is outside the focus of the book I felt that the double discrimination could have been emphasized a bit more.

Although I feel that Washington’s professional detachment wavered during the examination of forced sterilization I am in awe of her ability to, over all, maintain her professionalism. Reading this book affected me more than any other work I can remember reading. As I said, I expected racial bigotry to be shown in antebellum selection of subjects for medical school dissection, but I was shocked at how much farther it went. I naively expected that post Mengele, post Nuremberg, post AMA, NIH and CDC ethics standards the intentional targeting of minorities and the poor would have diminished. It did not. For some reason I expected better of educated “healers”. I feel the need to go and reread John Dittmer’s “The Good Doctors” in the hope that it will restore some of my faith in the medical profession. ( )
  TLCrawford | Feb 14, 2013 |
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. ( )
1 vota tymfos | Feb 16, 2011 |
In this book, the author has compiled and analyzed a vast amount of research to make the case that racist practices toward African-American people from slavery onward, in the name of science and medicine, have created an atmosphere of distrust among African-Americans toward the medical profession. As a result of this distrust, and often fear, this group of people may not be getting proper medical care when necessary.

I won't go into a major discussion here, but I thought the author did a fine job in terms of research and presentation. I'm not a scientist, nor am I conversant enough in the topic to judge her research, but this book really opened my eyes to some less than professional and less than ethical practices. I must say that I'm not surprised -- earlier I read the book "Bad Blood" about the syphillis experiments at Tuskeegee -- but that was probably the extent of my knowledge on the topic. Washington's book makes that study seem like only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. I have to say that sometimes she was a bit repetitive, but not enough to distract from the main points of her work.

I truly hope her work does some good. I'd recommend it to people who are interested in the topic, especially people like myself who have only a limited knowledge, or to people who want to add yet another dimension to their understanding of African-American history.
  bcquinnsmom | Feb 23, 2009 |
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The first comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between Africans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the way both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without a hint of informed consent--a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It shows how the pseudoscience of eugenics and social Darwinism was used to justify experimental exploitation and shoddy medical treatment of blacks, and a view that they were biologically inferior, oversexed, and unfit for adult responsibilities. New details about the government's Tuskegee experiment are revealed, as are similar, less well-known medical atrocities conducted by the government, the armed forces, and private institutions. This book 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.--From publisher description.

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