Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present (2006).

Author:Walker, Lori
Position:Book review
 
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Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present (2006) Harriet A. Washington, Harlem-Moon, 510 pp.

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, so it is fitting that I am reviewing Harriet Washington's book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. As I reflect on this book, it is clear that we have made significant changes to the way we conduct research as a result of the public exposure to the kinds of abuses that Washington cites. These changes, however, are not enough. The exploitation of vulnerable populations continues to this day, and it is for this reason that this book is a must read for those of us involved in the administration of research.

Harriet Washington is a journalist, bioethicist, and scholar, whose manuscript chronicles the history of abuses in research specifically related to African Americans. She delivers a stark message: the health profile of African Americans is deplorable. America suffers from a racial health gap that "has riven [the] nation so dramatically that it appears as if we were considering the health profiles of people in two different countries--a medical apartheid" (p. 20). According to Washington, this gap is perpetuated by an African American fear of medicine, which she refers to as iatrophobia--coined from the Greek iatros (healer) and phobia (fear). In Medical Apartheid, Washington reveals the legitimate basis for this fear, exposing a dark history of abuse and medical experimentation on unwilling and unwitting African Americans spanning 300 years.

Medical Apartheid, winner of the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Non-fiction, is a well-researched book that holds value for a variety of audiences. It has obvious implications for medical and public health professionals, but it is also an important read for researchers, educators, students, and research administrators, including those who work closely with human research ethics boards. People interested in Black history, social justice, women's studies and/or children's rights will find this book to be a rich resource as well.

Interweaving history, science, and culture, Washington takes complex information and makes it reader-friendly. She divides her book into three parts and 15 chapters. Part 1, "A Troubling Tradition," chronicles the medical exploitation of Blacks from slavery to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, providing harrowing accounts of inimical medical practices which, for the most...

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