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

by Harriet A. Washington
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)

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Book Description

January 9, 2007 0385509936 978-0385509930 1
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.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This groundbreaking study documents that the infamous Tuskegee experiments, in which black syphilitic men were studied but not treated, was simply the most publicized in a long, and continuing, history of the American medical establishment using African-Americans as unwitting or unwilling human guinea pigs. Washington, a journalist and bioethicist who has worked at Harvard Medical School and Tuskegee University, has accumulated a wealth of documentation, beginning with Thomas Jefferson exposing hundreds of slaves to an untried smallpox vaccine before using it on whites, to the 1990s, when the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University ran drug experiments on African-American and black Dominican boys to determine a genetic predisposition for "disruptive behavior." Washington is a great storyteller, and in addition to giving us an abundance of information on "scientific racism," the book, even at its most distressing, is compulsively readable. It covers a wide range of topics—the history of hospitals not charging black patients so that, after death, their bodies could be used for anatomy classes; the exhaustive research done on black prisoners throughout the 20th century—and paints a powerful and disturbing portrait of medicine, race, sex and the abuse of power. (Dec. 26)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The shameful history of the physical and medical misuse of African Americans began long before the infamous Tuskegee experiment of the 1930s. Washington, a medical journalist, offers the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on and mistreatment of black Americans. Starting with the racist pseudoscience that began when whites first encountered Africans, Washington traces practices from grave robbing to public display of black albinos and the "Hottentot Venus," and theories from eugenics to social Darwinism, which have attempted to justify views of racial hierarchy and mistreatment and even enslavement of blacks. Washington draws on medical journals and previously unpublished reports that openly acknowledged racial attitudes and experimentation, protected by the fact that the public and the media rarely read or understood such reports and often shared similar feelings on the subject. Washington also details a litany of medical abuses and experimentation aimed at black men in the military and in prison, as well as women and children, all without proper notification or consent. This is a stunning work, broad in scope and well documented, revealing a history that reverberates in African Americans' continued distrust of the medical profession. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1 edition (January 9, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385509936
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385509930
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #340,921 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
50 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frightening Look into the Minds of the Heartless March 28, 2007
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Harriet Washington has created an extensive investigative body of work that reveals the inhumane treatment of a people unprovenly regarded as less than by those who have proved themselves to be less than. One wonders why God would grant anyone dominion over the earth and all that dwells upon it, but Medical Apartheid indentifies those who take to heart that particular verse and chapter and illustrates how they consider no one and nothing exempt from the horrors of their demonic thinking. From surgical procedures with neither consent nor notification to the withholding of treatment for the sake of science, this book reveals the price so many African-Americans have paid in the name of medical advancement-without compensation or an acknowledgment of gratitude from the medical community.

This book should be mandatory reading for all.

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41 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medical Apartheid: What You Never Learned in School February 11, 2007
Medical Apartheid is a must read for anyone interested in social justice issues. While Washington's work may be the catalyst for the long awaited national apology, the researched accounts of U.S. atrocities deserve and require far more. This book should become required reading in our educational institutions regardless of one's pursued field of study. The U.S. must tell the truth about its past and those it has ceremoniously honored and attempted to destroy. Harriet Washington has done just that.
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medical Testing Gone Amuck April 4, 2007
The opening salvo was the press reporting on the so called Tuskegee experiments, in which black syphilitic men were studied but not treated. This book gives the most complete description of the Tuskegee experiments I've seen as it makes this study the centerpiece of medical experimentation where one race was selectied out as the subjects.

From there, unfortunagely, it goes on to show that this was not an abberation but a practice that goes back to slave days. It gives the stories of experiment after experiment that were conducted the same way with predominately black subjects.

The book concentrates on experiments conducted on black Americans and goes on to describe the ongoing, perhaps everlasting suspicion that these experiments have left in the minds of black America towards the medical profession.

This is a fitting subject for a book, but while reading I was reminded of the other famous medical experimentation incidents such as the German experiments in their concentration camps or those performed by Japan's Unit 516. It seems that 'unter-people' or people viewed as some kind of sub-human are the favorites for experiments.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Medical Apartheid, Trust, and Patient Preferences December 15, 2008
I bought this book last year about this time because I was in the midst of writing a M.A. Thesis focused on racial differences in trust in the patient-physician relationship. I read the first and seventh chapters and put the book down because my stomach was deeply disturbed by the books' contents. I was disappointed that the terms, "trust," "distrust," or "mistrust" were not indexed in the back of the book. Nonetheless, I decided ind to put the book on the list for my qualifying exams--it was to my knowledge the most comprehensive assessment of race and medical experimentation written to date.

I finished reading the book from start to finish last week. I was deeply impressed that Washington was able to cover the breadth of history without shortchanging the respect due to the grave matters dealt within between the covers of Medical Apartheid. Some critics of the book have stated that they are unsure whether she is accurately portraying the truth of the history of medical research. Others suggest that her emotions may have guided the presentation of the material. My review will be directed to such responses of the book.

I myself had doubts initially. The things I began reading about last December were too grotesque for them to have actually happened and the dispassion characterizing the medical researchers who went about their work is at odds with the Hippocratic Oath that is supposedly the center of Western medicine. However, more recent work by Steven Epstein (2007) on the social movement that yielded the NIH Revitalization Act of 1994 and more dated work by
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An extremely interesting book on a difficult topic February 5, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
As its title states, this book examines the history of medically "justified" and pseudo-science backed abuses of black Americans from colonial to modern times.
Harriet Washington traces American racism from a medical standpoint from the early days, when science was more curious than anything else, to the days of slavery, when religion and science went hand in hand to justify by divine sanction, on the one hand, and by scientific reason, on the other, that black slaves were inferior to their white masters - morally, physically and mentally; after the end of slavery, when that brand of religious racism held less sway, Darwinism was pulled into the mix; and, now, when words such as "inferior" are never used in a racial context, expect in a discussion of historical viewpoints, or by the most ardent racists, other, more insidious terms pop up - for the same purposes of exploitation and abuse. While the evolution of racism in the US is not the main topic of this book, it is inevitably linked; this book is an interesting look at how the two, racism and racist abuse of minorities, have worked together throughout American history. This book is easy to read language-wise, although the content is very difficult at times.

Some of the highlights of Washington's work:

- She examines how the slave-holders wielded faulty - and, sometimes, simultaneously contradictory - scientific theories to justify the harshest abuses of black slaves, as well as the institution of slavery itself. African-Americans were both extremely susceptible to disease and incapable of living on their own (thusly in need of their masters' gracious benevolence), yet at the same immune to diseases white people could contract in the fields, doing the same labor.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Dangerous
While there is no question that monstrous things have been done in the past in the name of science to blacks (and the incarcerated, the mentally ill, jews and anyone that society... Read more
Published 11 days ago by Robert Levaro
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Book
Came fast, haven't read it yet I need it for class next semester cannot wait to read it, looks interesting
Published 23 days ago by Bearfeet
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gift
Again this book was a gift. The reader has not completely read the book. So far she love the content and plan to complete the book soon.
Published 1 month ago by John Hubbard Jr.
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent research by author
I initially heard about the book from a conference given on dealing with Youth/inner city issues shown on C Span a couple years ago. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Barbara J Whitehead
4.0 out of 5 stars Important background on race and medicine in America
While the pundits explain the flawed healthcare habits of the heretofore uninsured, why these largely poor and largely people of color have failed to avail themselves to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Lynette A. Jackson
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad but Awesome
Its one thing to hear the family tales of atrocities done to African Americans in this county. It's another to literally read a well researched book that is hard to discredit. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Courtney Turner
5.0 out of 5 stars Chilling read
Let me start by saying that this book is not for the faint at heart. At times you will feel shock, anger, rage and hope. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Gerard W. Harrington
3.0 out of 5 stars Its a hard read.
It is sad topic and very hard read. It was a little dry and probably could have stood a few more personal narrations. Interesting nonetheless
Published 3 months ago by cynthia lee wallace
5.0 out of 5 stars Would order again and again.
Not only did this book shed light on the 'Tuskegee Experiment' but it also exposed the medical profession's history of abuses.
Published 3 months ago by V.L.
5.0 out of 5 stars all black foljs need to kknow about this
this book is so real and I recommend that all black men need to read this book I think this type of practice still takes place
Published 3 months ago by Marty J Brown
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