Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present Illustrated Edition
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PEN/Oakland Award Winner
BCALA Nonfiction Award Winner
Gustavus Meyers Award Winner
“This groundbreaking study documents that the infamous Tuskegee experiment, 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 is a great storyteller, and in addition to giving us an abundance of information on ‘scientific racism,’ the book, even at its most disturbing, 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.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Medical ethicist and journalist Washington details the abusive medical practices to which African Americans have been subjected.
“She begins her shocking history in the colonial period, when owners would hire out or sell slaves to physicians for use as guinea pigs in medical experiments. Into the 19th century, black cadavers were routinely exploited for profit by whites who shipped them to medical schools for dissection and to museums and traveling shows for casual public display. The most notorious case here may be the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which about 600 syphilitic men were left untreated by the U.S. Public Health Service so it could study the progression of the disease, but Washington asserts that it was the forerunner to a host of similar medical abuses . . . African American skepticism about the medical establishment and reluctance to participate in medical research is an unfortunate result. One of her goals in writing this book, aside from documenting a shameful past, is to convince them that they must participate actively in therapeutic medical research, especially in areas that most affect their community’s health, while remaining ever alert to possible abuses.
“Sweeping and powerful.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
About the Author
- Publisher : Anchor; Illustrated edition (January 8, 2008)
- Language: : English
- Paperback : 528 pages
- ISBN-10 : 076791547X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0767915472
- Lexile measure : 1400L
- Item Weight : 14.4 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 1.1 x 8.21 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #1,056 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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1. Her main thesis as "Exploitation of Black Americans"---I understood this as a medical experimentation/ exploitation based on race/ racist ideology as the primary reason.
She does this well in her chapters on her a brief history of racist thought, medical treatment under slavery, post slavery. PT Barnum, Sara Baartman, Tuskegee, Cold War bio terrorism, some prison experiments etc. These were SPECIFIC instances when Blacks were targeted/ experimented upon/ fetishized.
When she begins with the chapters on prison experimentation and the radiation trials is where MA loses the tight focus on Black bodies.
Ch 15--Nuclear Winter, she introduces the story of Ebb Cade, the injured truck driver injected with plutonium while at the hospital, and left in hopes the doctors would have a body to dissect and test. To their shock, he walked out in the middle of the night, living another 8 more years. She then declares that "many of these subjects, perhaps most, were African American" (pg 218) She doesn't provide any footnotes to backup the statement. If we overlook that generality, we cannot overlook this: " The percentage of African American subjects in 1945 hovered around 10 percent, but lawyer E. Cooper Brown, who represented plaintiffs in radiation suits, has estimated that '60 percent were people of color, mostly African American' " (pg 219) THERE ARE NO FOOTNOTES or DOCUMENTATION. She must have a footnote to back up such a specific statement. Nor is she clear in her intent--does she mean a recorded 10% of African American subjects in the records of these 1945 studies or 10% of the total population of America in 1945? If she does mean the 1945 studies, to make the statement that these records were false at 10% black participation but that in fact it was 60% black participation implies racist intent on the part of the researchers which requires a source. Where does Brown get this information? Later in the chapter (pg 240) she quotes Brown at 3 of 5 victims were Black---the source? a June 1978 issue of The American Journal of Public Health, but no article title, page number, publisher etc.
In the same chapter, we learn about Elmer Allen, a successful Pullman porter who falls from a train breaking his leg, he subsequently loses his job and while at the UCSF free clinic his leg is shot with plutonium then amputated and sent to Los Alamos. He lived to be 84 years old. After the reader learns of these two horrific stories along with the reiteration of a majority black subjects, she informs the reader that in the plutonium studies " According to a July 1947 statement by Robert Stone [to whom we are introduced previously] "By race there were 15 white and 5 blacks" injected. " She gives us a source for this statement. But we were told for a number of pages that the majority were black....how does she explain this? the rate of 25% participants "was 2.5 times greater than it should have been " given the US population. She gives this explanation on several occasions where the majority of subject were white not black especially in the prison chapter which undermines her thesis on exploitation of BLACK BODIES.
Several of the studies that she tries infer a racist intent are in fact with minority or equal participation by blacks such as 45% percent in the Sloan Kettering Institute cancer cell "research". As well as the irradiation of 131 Oregon prisoners’ gonads which 66 black subjects and 66 white (pg 233) Also on 233, 30 orphans in MA ate radioactive oatmeal "Old videotapes reveal that some of these boys were African American". SOME? why not an actual number? On pg 239, 1940s-50s, NY children in low income areas had their scalps treated by irradiation for ringworm ,the percentage 25% black. Again no source. By including these examples she weakens her thesis and exposes rather the exploitation of vulnerable subjects who are underserved, undereducated, and have few options.
2. Her lack of sources
Some readers commented that it seemed to be well sourced, however as stated above she makes "bombshell" statements and quotes without citations. There should be far more than is given.
Another misleading source on page 264
" On July 29, 1969, the New York Times, published a page one article that exposed Dr Austin Stough's ethically and scientifically sloppy drug testing program, which had crippled and killed unknown numbers of men throughout the state prisons of Alabama [as well as OK and AR]. Unlike the earlier articles, which had praised the experiments, this account suggested that most of his victims were black."
I have personally read the article which is available online, it suggests no such thing. One could INFER that many of his subjects were indeed black in AL given the racial makeup of prisons in the South but the article does not suggest this at all.
In summary, Medical Apartheid is an important read based on it subject matter, BUT its execution is lacking and should be read critically and with reflection.
“Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” is a book that may shock and disturb the reader. A thorough and well researched work that supports each reported act of medical malpractice, abuse, and excess, as well as government acts of bio-terrorism against it’s own citizens, with well documented evidence. The book provides the rationale for the wide-spread African American, persistent and profound distrust of the US healthcare system
However, a book that would appear to be an outright indictment of White America’s treatment of it’s African American population, and justification for African American distrust of the US healthcare system turns out to offer a lot of compromise, including practical and feasible solutions for curbing potential acts of medical malpractice, abuse, and excesses
This is an extraordinary, well researched work; congratulations to Harriet A. Washington!
I've been struggling with what to write here, because I'm just so horrified at what was done, and how recently.
The enormous number of invasive and harmful medical experiments done on African Americans WITHOUT THEIR INFORMED CONSENT is so horrible, it calls Nazi Germany and Mengele to mind. The twisted excuses and reasoning are the same.
Everyone should read this book, no matter what ethnicity their background. We should all know the depths of depravity our scientists and doctors sank to by participating in this "science," AND by turning their backs even if they weren't directly involved.