Author reveals racial injustice

by Sarah Allison
Staff Writer

Transylvania University welcomed award-winning writer Harriet Washington, author of “Medical Apartheid,” to Haggin Auditorium Sunday.

The convocation focused on Washington’s highly successful book that was published in 2006. “Medical Apartheid” has earned numerous awards, including the Best Book of 2006 by Publishers Weekly and the 2007 nonfiction award from the Black Caucus of American Library Association.

As part of the First Engagement series, “Medical Apartheid” relates to bioethics and injustice toward African-Americans. The book is about the experimentation on African-Americans throughout history, from the colonial period to the modern day.

Divided into three parts, the book reveals that medical research wasn’t always ethical. It starts with the antebellum period and addresses the plantation slaves that were experimented on to determine race comparisons. Slaves sometimes endured these biological theorems and abuse from their white masters.

It was the stigma then that blacks were biologically different than whites, and people’s curiosity as to what those differences were often got the best of them. Some of the bodies were even put on display after their death for inquisitive onlookers.

Washington also touched on the Tuskegee syphilis study, where over 600 impoverished sharecroppers in Tuskegee, Ala., took part in an experiment on how to treat syphilis.

The study, sponsored by the U.S. Public Health Service, started in 1932 and ended in 1972; it aimed to track the progression of syphilis in infected persons. However, the study falsely informed the test subjects that they were treating it for free when, in fact, they were not treating it at all.

Almost 400 subjects already had the disease and a little over 200 that did not contracted it. The male test subjects that were being treated for it were never told that they had it.

Over a 40-year period, the Health Service tracked the male subjects but did not treat them, despite the availability of penicillin in the 1940s and a viable cure. Thus, many died an unnecessary and painful death from syphilis.

This type of racial experimentation is what “Medical Apartheid” is based on. The horrors of experimentation are shown to the world though Washington’s words. Everyone that reads it should be disgusted by the government’s actions towards human beings.

Washington began writing the book while a research fellow in ethics at Harvard University Medical School. It is the first comprehensive book describing the social history of African-Americans involving medical research and experimentation.

Based on medical journals past and present and medical ethics research, “Medical Apartheid” explains why many African-Americans distrust the public health system. It should make everyone conscious of the experimentation of drugs and studies when you go in for any type of procedure.

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