MEDICAL APARTHEID by Harriet A. Washington
Kirkus Star


The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present
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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. Among her numerous examples is the radical brain surgery performed by a University of Mississippi neurosurgeon on African-American boys as young as six who were deemed aggressive or hyperactive, a procedure he recommended for urban rioters after Watts. And the abuses are not all buried in the distant past: During a 1992-1997 study of the biological basis of violent behavior conducted by the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University’s Loewenstein Center, researchers intimidated parents of black juvenile offenders into permitting them to administer the dangerous drug fenfluramine to the offenders’ younger brothers. African-Americans’ reproductive rights have been trampled on; soldiers, prisoners and children have been coerced into becoming subjects of experiments without therapeutic value to themselves; the federal government and private companies have utilized unwitting blacks in large-scale experiments with radiation and biological weapons, she asserts. While the worst abuses have been eliminated, Washington concludes, 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.

Pub Date: Dec. 26th, 2006
ISBN: 0-385-50993-6
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 2006


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