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Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans

Bibliographic Information of the Book

  • Title: Medical apartheid: The dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans from colonial times to the present.
  • Author: Harriet A. Washington
  • Publisher: Doubleday Books
  • Date of publication: 2007
  • Edition: 1st edition
  • Number of pages: 569

Summary of the Book

The book Medical Apartheid is authored by Harriet A. Washington, a journalist who formally specialized in medical ethics at Harvard Medical School. Washington outlines the demeaning medical practices that hundreds of African Americans were subjected to (2007). She starts with the initial interactions between African-Americans and Western medical professionals and the racist pseudoscience that deepened the disparity. Washington shows how pseudoscience was used to validate experimental exploitation and unethical medical treatment of black people in the twentieth century, as well as the notion that blacks were intrinsically inferior and unsuited for adult duties (2007). There are also more details on the government’s infamous Tuskegee experiment and other lesser-known medical offenses by the government, incarcerates, and private institutions.

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Themes Used in the Book

Medical Exploitation

Washington explores the long history of medical exploitations of African Americans in various chapters of the book. In chapter one, Washington explores how medical treatment of slaves was solely in the hands of slave-owners in the Antebellum South, describing the general culture of health care in the Antebellum South (Washington, 2007). Chapter 2 also examines how Southern surgeons gain medical improvements by abusing slaves in their experiments. For example, by constant operations on a number of female slaves without consent or anesthetics, James Marion Sims contributes to the development of modern gynecology (Washington, 2007). Finally, in Chapter 3, Washington majored in black sideshow exhibits, saying that such displays assist propagate scientific racism theories. Therefore, Washington main focus is on the mistreatment of African Americans.

Mistreatment

Washington majors on instances of mistreatment and abuses of African America recorded in the 20th century. In the book, Washington provides a chronology of events in each chapter showcasing the mistreatment of people of color in the healthcare sector (Washington, 2007). To start with, chapter 8 of the book talks about the history of birth control programs that targeted African Americans because of racial notions about their genetic inferiority. In chapter 9, she discusses a variety of radiation experiments on black bodies that were carried out without the patients’ knowledge (Washington, 2007). Similarly, she emphasizes how convicts were misled into agreeing to be study subjects while not knowing what they were getting in Chapter 10’s account of prison experiments.

She states that the vast majority of diseases that kill Black people are more likely to be proactively fought against and treated in other races. Black people are more likely to be diagnosed with serious illnesses later in life, and we are less likely to receive aggressive treatment or transplants (Washington, 2007). Screenings are performed at the same rate for Black and White people, but the quality varies, which means that illnesses like cancer may not be diagnosed until it reaches advanced stages. Black women have high levels of stress and depression, while Black male suicide rates have risen in recent decades (Washington, 2007). A mix of complicated factors and a lack of access to care contribute to health disparities.

Racism

In the book, Washington questions how information gathered from Black participants could be used to treat White patients if the biology of the two races is so dissimilar. Racist medical practitioners would undoubtedly do experiments on Black people that would be considered too dangerous for White people (Washington, 2007). This is similar to how research on mice and other animals is carried out before being carried out on humans. These animals are thought to be lesser living forms, making them suitable for testing. Black people have been perceived in this way in the past, and they are still considered in this way today (Washington, 2007). Also, in the northern states, the number of people of color enrolled in studies was out of proportion to their population.

The Tone of the Book

The text’s tone reveals Washington’s outrage at the deplorable treatment of African Americans in a trust-based health organization. Washington elaborates the historical connections at the start of the book to establish an unexpected trail leading to modern-day healthcare-related crimes (Washington, 2007). The focus swings away from medical malpractice stories and what can be done to make people of color feel more at ease in healthcare settings. This is in response to the fact that discriminatory practices have not been completely removed, and many African Americans still have a bad experience with the medical profession (Washington, 2007). As the book draws to a close, the historical path reaches its goal: to respect the past and learn from it in the future.

My Critique

Washington’s expression of the crimes committed against African Americans is extensive in this book. I believe Washington intended to be therapeutic rather than detrimental to her African American readers.

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Despite the fact that I understood her genuine intentions, I cannot help but think that other people of color may not interpret the book’s words in the same manner. According to Grant (2019), most black readers are likely to feel sad and agonize with people of color who had gone through those horrific experiences in the hands of medical researchers. The negative experienced propagated against another race can lead to hate especially among the victims. I believe an equal scale could have been used to make minorities feel more at ease in medical settings. Therefore, the mistreatment of the blacks has been presented agonisingly.

The book’s fifth chapter is fascinating because it addresses the theft and usage of Black dead bodies for dissection. The subject of the book made my interest ebb and flowed at times. On the other hand, this chapter had my undivided attention. The finding of human bones beneath an old building previously the Medical College of Georgia occupies a large portion of the chapter (Washington, 2007). As evidence of cadaver sites has been discovered across the country, the ethical transgression of grave robbing for medical training and research is one of the most widely discussed issues in the book. Washington intended to display the stereotypes and bias of medical providers and researchers against blacks.

Conclusion

All in all, Washington’s Medical Apartheid is of great significance to individuals who want to understand the history of people of color, especially in the medical field. Harried has gone out of her way to reveal the mistreatments of African Americans in the medical field. For example, some of the medical researchers engaged in the immoral practise of owning slaves for the sake of testing. Because of the absence of recognition of Black people’s rights, even “free” Black individuals could be dragged into research without their knowledge or consent. In the book, I like the way Harried organized the thoughts. It began with the injustices encountered by enslaved Black people in America and utilized that as a framework for discussing how we arrived at our current state of affairs.

References

Grant, C. (2019). Race, emotions, and woke in teaching. Teachers College Record, 121(13), 1-26.

Washington, H. A. (2007). Medical apartheid: The dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans from colonial times to the present. Doubleday Books.

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StudyCorgi. "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans." September 9, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/medical-apartheid-the-dark-history-of-medical-experimentation-on-black-americans/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans." September 9, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/medical-apartheid-the-dark-history-of-medical-experimentation-on-black-americans/.

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StudyCorgi. (2022) 'Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans'. 9 September.

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