Slavery was a horrendous epoch in the history of humankind.
Black lives were treated merely as property and nothing beyond that. Medical advancement propounded by white medical doctors meant inevitable human experimentation. In the modern era, it was beyond any reasonable doubt that the marginalized, the poor and the vulnerable were exploited, with horrific consequences, for medical experimentation.
In the days of slavery, the lives of black slaves were regarded as nothing and black bodies were regularly sold off as specimens for the purposes of medical experimentation. The brutality of these medical experiments is well documented in history. The most infamous is probably the Tuskegee experiment in modern history.
The U.S Public Health Service, in conjunction with the Tuskegee Institute, carried out a syphilis experiment on African-American men from 1932 to 1972. The study initially involved 600 men, and 399 had syphilis. 201 were free of the virus. The patients' informed consent was a conspicuously absent feature in this wicked experiment. The study made the government observe the natural progression of the disease until the time of death. Hundreds of black men were untreated of syphilis because of a research experiment.
South America became notorious for the acquisition and exploitation of slave bodies. It was a common phenomenon to have experimentation on living human beings. Slave bodies were a readily available as medical commodity. The slave owner and the doctor conspired to traffic these bodies for medical experiments. The inherent evil nature of the slave system provided easy conditions for this to take place without much indignation.
New ideas would only be tried out on white patients if this was intended to benefit the patient in question. African slaves and Native Americans were used for the benefit of others. It was an appalling disparity.
Another infamous medical experiment was that done by J. Marion Sims, often considered as the father of modern gynecology. His revolutionary gynecological procedure was made possible through multiple practice runs on enslaved women. When he treated a woman's injury, "Sims realized he needed to look directly into her vagina. He positioned her on all fours, leaning forward, and then used his fingers to help him see inside. This discovery helped him develop the precursor to the modern speculum: the bent handle of a pewter spoon."
It would suffice to say all spheres of American medicine were advanced through the exploitation of black bodies.
From the training, apprenticeships, private practices, colleges to journals and "societies," slave bodies had to be dissected, and without the consent of the patient. The integrity of the body after death was not even of any concern to the white slave owners and doctors, for experiments even continued after the slaves had died. Such was the barbarism that was deemed beneficial for American medicine.
Medicine studies were centred on the "observation, dissection and experimental treatment of black bodies." White medical students considered these the paramount tenets of studying medicine. Knowledge from the exploitation of black bodies. Medical journals were full with information that had been gained from experiments on slaves. Black bodies were trafficked to medical universities. Black body parts also filled medical museums.
Scores of individual doctors repeatedly advertised about their serious intentions to pay cash for black people afflicted with chronic diseases. The vile racist attitudes that pervaded American colonial society can only be construed as the behaviour of savages. The unimaginable horrors and traumas that these slaves went through are chilling.
Header Image credit - The Conversation