Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington


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  • Pub. Date: January 2008
  • 528pp
  • Sales Rank: 47,355
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    • Pub. Date: January 2008
    • Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
    • Format: Paperback, 528pp
    • Sales Rank: 47,355


    National Book Critics Circle Award Winner (Nonfiction)
    PEN/Oakland Award Winner
    BCALA Nonfiction Award Winner
    Gustavus Meyers Award Winner

    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.


    Winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Nonfiction

    Publishers Weekly

    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 2006 Reed Business Information.

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    HARRIET A. WASHINGTON has been a fellow in ethics at the Harvard Medical School, a fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University. As a journalist and editor, she has worked for USA Today and several other publications, been a Knight Fellow at Stanford University and has written for such academic forums as the Harvard Public Health Review and The New England Journal of Medicine. She is the recipient of several prestigious awards for her work.

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    Customer Reviews

    Mentioned are USA Slavery, Eugenics, Unethical Doctors, Human Experimentation and mainly (not limiteby Anonymous

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    February 24, 2009: Though it focuses on human rights crimes by the medical community against African Americans, a lot more is covered including the overall eugenics issues against people that were deemed unfit, and much, much, more on the culture of imposing human slavery, of subjugation. The author is unbiased mentioning black on black human rights crimes in the medical profession, corruption in the NAACP at some point, as well as the eugenicists going after "poor white women," that lived in African American neighborhoods during that time period when eugenicists were a strong force. The worst happened in the southern states, according to the book. The main underlying theme is the horrors of slavery that can be seen also apart from the African American community whether it exists in a communist government or a fascist, military dictatorship or in a "democracy" such as the USA.

    I am halfway through this nonfiction and it is quite difficult to stomach (as a lot of it reads much worse than a horror film) such as inept doctors performing human experimentation (i.e., gynecological surgery, unecessary limb removal, etc.) on live southern US slaves without the use of anesthesia on the slave patients during the 19th Century. Supposedly, according to this book, this was done to instill fear to prevent a slave rebellion and unethical doctors that did these horrific experiments were promoted. One unethical medical doctor of that time period is currently seen by the medical community with a statue of himself on Central Park's Fifth Avenue (New York City actually had the largest African slave trade due to the ports, and shipped many to the southern states).

    Mentioned is that the doctors could have been ethical and not abused patients, and could have used anesthesia on those that needed surgery, but subjugation of African Americans for slavery was a major factor. Most of the heinous human rights crimes against African American originated and was worse in the southern states making one think that southerners are to blame for most of it, and that when they go into trades such as the FBI or CIA, that they further their subjugation of those they consider inferior or want to enslave through secret experimentation through those agenices in the USA and abroad.

    I actually had heard of many of these stories in this nonfiction prior to reading this book, but this book has a lot of information that I was unaware of. As with other human rights issues, it seems to start from the top down, lousy government/presidential leadership that does not protect all of the people and does not set a standard of good ethics, and the many do-gooders that did not do more to prevent the horrors.

    This nonfiction makes one think about what may have happened to African slaves in South America at the hands of the medical community there in the 19th Century, what may be happening/happened in communist countries, fascist countries, etc. It also causes one to see the whole slavery scene as some sort of demonic existence that feeds on its own miseries. and likes to be displayed in statues...

    Other nonfiction I recommend:

    "Defending the Master Race: Conservation, Eugenics, and the Legacy of Madison Grant," by Jonathan Peter Spiro (University of Vermont Press, 2009).

    Excellent Bookby Anonymous

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    October 31, 2007: This book is not for the faint hearted. Ms. Washington has done her research, verified her findings and authenticated all of the information presented in this book. Her professional credentials validate her as an author and researcher and her passion guided her to put her findings in this book for the world to gain from her efforts. Denise Grady pointed out in her NY Times January 23, 207 article, White Doctors, Black Subjects: Abuse Disguised as Research, 'Even so, Ms. Washington implies that the 'AIDS' vaccine did have promise for minorities but was abandoned purely because it did not help whites. If there is evidence to justify sinking more money into this vaccine, she 'Ms. Washington' does not provide it.' Maybe Ms. Washington could have written more on the details of some of the findings of the modern experiments but I believe the book definitely gives the readers more than a taste of the atrocities levied on people of African descent in America. Medical Apartheid is factually written by a person who has diligently researched the topics and issues addressed in the book. She leaves no stone unturned and not only points you in the direction to find out more on your own but takes you there and waits for you to see the facts for yourself. Medical Apartheid is not for the faint hearted but it should open much needed dialogue in the African American community because we are dying, no killing ourselves because we shy away from getting proper medical care. Read this book for yourself and share the information with your elders and those generations following your lead.

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