“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.” Dr. Martin Luther King to the Medical Committee for Human Rights, 1965
*Is the African American threatened by the medical community? According to a February 28 Sunday New York Times article written by Shaila Dewan, the underlying, simmering answer is “yes.”
Ms. Dewan states that, in Georgia, alarming numbers of black women undergo abortions on a regular basis, compared to whites and Hispanics, in effect threatening the future growth and existence of a significant segment of African America.
For years, attempts to alert larger numbers of blacks in the state about the phenomenon proved futile until an anti-abortion group, Georgia Right to Life, hired a black woman, Catherine Davis, to be its minority outreach coordinator. Her mission: spearhead a massive campaign to alert blacks to this growing problem.
Ms. Davis followed a path taken by mega-producer/writer/actor Tyler Perry. Perry, if you recall, was frustrated trying to get major film studios to either finance or distribute his films, and received rejection after rejection.
Perry decided to go directly to the very core of the black community and reached out to churches to “spread the word” about his movies. In short, the plan worked, and Perry is now one of the most powerful figures in entertainment, with an empire that includes television (“House of Payne”), movies and plays (numerous projects, including many with his beloved “Madea” character).
Davis’ plan was similar; visit black churches and colleges to inform people “that abortion is the primary tool in a decades-old conspiracy to kill off blacks,” according to the article. In addition, Georgia Right to Life commissioned 80 billboards throughout Atlanta with the message, “Black children are an endangered species.”
Also, a web site, www.toomanyaborted.com, was created to inform computer-savvy individuals about the abundance of Planned Parenthood abortion centers throughout black neighborhoods in the South. Because of this effort, more blacks are aware that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, although blacks make up 13% of the U.S. population, nearly 40% of all black pregnancies end up in abortions, nearly 40% of those were induced. Please refer to the following link for the full story: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/27/us/27race.html?th&emc=th
I highlight this issue because, several years ago, I purchased a book titled “Medical Apartheid: the Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.” Written by Harriet A. Washington, and published by Doubleday in 2006, the book is a chilling account of medicine gone brutally wild over a 400 year period that, by all accounts in the abortion story, continues to this day. I let the book sit on my shelf until that February 28 article shook my senses. Each story chronicled is enough to suggest that, when it comes to medicine and blacks, there is plentiful evidence that something is wrong in America.
Most of America is familiar with the “Tuskegee Experiment” in which, for 40 years from 1932 to 1972, hundreds of black illiterate sharecroppers were exposed to tertiary syphilis and left untreated in order to study the effects of this disease. Even though the experiment involved such symptoms as tumors, heart disease, paralysis, blindness, insanity and death, one anonymous doctor, quoted in a Tuskegee Institute paper, commented, “As I see it, we have no further interest in these men until they die.” According to the paper, most involved, including a black nurse who stayed with the experiment for 25 years, “remained unrepentant” amidst claims that the sharecroppers volunteered, even though they never were told specifics of the experiment.
“Medical Apartheid” is an exhaustive study of how blacks have been fodder for a wide array of experiments dating back to colonial days. For example, it was commonplace to perform a procedure called bloodletting on sick “negro” slaves in order to get them healthy and back to work on southern plantations, despite the fact that such a procedure resulted in worst illnesses due to poor diets. Indeed, there are many accounts of doctors conspiring with plantation owners to get “malingerers” back on their feet quickly, including the use of ammonium carbonate to ferret out those who may have been faking illness. And, of course, there was the traditional “whipping” to “cure” a slave’s illness.
Other antebellum experiments called for the use of slaves to find a cure for sunstroke by sitting them in pits and exposing them to extreme heat. Slaves were then given various concoctions to see what worked. There is one gruesome example of sick slave babies that had incisions made in their scalps and then a cobbler’s tool was used to adjust their skull bones into new positions to prevent sickness. Problem was, sickness among slaves was directly caused by extremely poor living conditions and severe malnutrition.
In modern times, Washington points out that sterilization among blacks was rampant up to the early 1980s. Involuntary hysterectomies on black women were common throughout the United States, thinly disguised as “appendectomies” or “gall bladder removals”… An experimental drug, Upjohn’s Depo-Provera, was touted as a Food and Drug Administration-approved cancer therapy drug, and administered as a contraceptive to over 4700 healthy women, all black, by Emory University in 1978. Problem was, the drug was extremely carcinogenic and led to uncommonly high incidents of breast cancer in experimental dogs…
Prisoners were ready subjects for medical experimentation, and “Medical Apartheid” uncovers massive abuse by prison authorities who okayed prisoners’ intake of trial drugs, manufactured blood, radiation exposure, and the inducing of various diseases such as herpes, warts and athlete’s foot. Most of the experiments were conducted without prisoners’ consent, or they were simply duped into volunteering without full disclosure.
The New York Times Article is on point in exposing the continued practice of unnecessary abortions. But that is simply the tip of an iceberg that goes deeper than one might imagine. “Medical Apartheid: the Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present” does an incredible service in pointing out injustices that continue to this day. When will it end? Probably never …
Gary D. Jackson is a freelance writer based in Southern California. Contact him at: [email protected]