Sunday, October 18, 2015

Beyond the Tuskegee Experiment: Mistreatment of Blacks in the American Medical System

Most of us have heard about the notorious Tuskegee experiment, in which African American men were duped into letting doctors study the progression of their untreated syphilis . However, medical researcher Harriet Washington carefully documents how the callous use of black bodies both living and dead as research subjects goes all the way back to slavery times, and continues today in research on prisoners, institutionalized children, and Africans.

As with several other books we've read for AAL, this is a long and at times harrowing depiction of atrocities. To focus our discussion a bit, and make it easier for those who don't have time to read the entire book, let's concentrate on chapters 1, 2 , 10, 11, 12, 13, and the Epilogue, "Medical Research with Blacks Today". And, if you're really short on time, the above video interview with Ms Washington covers the major points.

Some questions to think about: does the history of medical mistreatment explain why African Americans have such disparate health outcomes from other Americans? Or is health care discrimination still going on?

Getting subjects for medical experiments is always difficult, and frequently involves either coercion, or financial compensation. But is it ethical to persuade  poor people to undergo medical tests because they need the money? And if not, how should medical research be conducted?

Are African Americans overall more distrustful of medical science than other groups? If so how do we fix this? Should this be covered in medical education?

What can or should the medical establishment do to correct or atone for these past mistakes and abuses? Do individual medical schools, clinics or medical journals bear any responsibility?

If you haven't already seen them, I highly recommend the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Pact, and Black Man in a White Coat for more on African Americans in the medical profession. Aaaannnddd...Wednesday night, (the day after our discussion) the History Book Group is discussing Remedy and reaction : the peculiar American struggle over health care reform.

See you this Tuesday October 20th at 7pm, Small Meeting Room on the 1st floor of the Evanston Public Library.

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