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Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington

December 31, 2012

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present is a compelling and horrifying journey through the racial disparities in medical treatment from the days of slavery to now.

Of course, the Tuskegee experiments, where black men with tuberculosis were told they were receiving treatment, but were actually enrolled in a study to chart the course of TB, are well-known, but the history goes back farther, and also extends farther into the present. The invention of the speculum was part of a doctor’s experimentation on unanesthetized female slaves, performing vaginal surgery while they writhed in pain. Once these procedures were perfected, he performed them on white women who had been given ether.

In the modern day, black americans are more likely to be enrolled in studies where they have given less than informed consent, including studies where children are enrolled, and the ability of foster parents to unenroll them if they feel they are not getting better is taken away by the state; and coercive tactics used to get prisoners to enroll in medical studies.

Washington meticulously and unflinchingly documents these abuses, giving countless case studies and examples, until the evidence is overwhelming that our medical system is built on racism and apartheid.

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