In reading both Medical Apartheid and Home, readers are confronted with a slew of injustices committed against African-Americans. Perhaps none are as gruesome and distressing as the experimentation in female anatomy carried out by white physicians against unwilling black victims. In her novel, Home, Toni Morrison shows us one such grim scene through the eyes of Frank as he looks upon his nearly dead sister, an unwilling victim of “research.” Her life and death struggle is made all the more immediate through Franks calculated approach to helping her, checking for pulse, breathing, and temperature with the familiarity of one who knows things about the dead. (Morrison, 111) However, this scene pales in comparison to the one painted by Harriet A. Washington in describing the exploits of Dr. James Marion Sims. Here, readers are forced to imagine the pain and terror helpless, enslaved women went through under his knife. The details of vesicovaginal fistula are particularly graphic, as are the descriptions of Dr. Sims carving the vaginal region and sewing it up, only to force it open once more as physicians gazed in awe while slaves screamed. (Washington, 64-65)
This brings me to the main argument of this blog. Although this was only one example of abuse, it is symptomatic of early research in the field of Gynecology. Although this may seem strange coming from a male, gynecology has played an important role in my family. Both of my parents are Obstetrician/Gynecologists and although this makes an impartial view of their work impossible, I can attest to the good they have done. Are town is not large and few days go by without strangers thanking my parents for delivering their children or helping them through surgical intervention. It is distressing to learn just how much of my parents field of practice was built upon the pain and brutalization of voiceless women. It brings to question how exactly we can square the good that has come from medical research with the inhumane methods it was derived from? The same question has been raised across history and is well documented in books and media sources, not least of all in critically acclaimed television series like Star Trek: Voyager and games like Mass Effect. My own view on the subject is that such practices are barbaric and should be left in the past, especially with advances in technology making research less invasive and scaring. However, the hardest question is often what to do with research obtained through these immoral means. Some advocate its destruction to discourage others from advancing science at the cost of human life and suffering. I disagree. People willing to sacrifice their humanity for scientific gain are unlikely to be concerned with what others think of their methods. Regardless, there may always be wicked people willing to profit off the suffering of others. Unfortunately this seems to be part of the darker side of human nature. Destroying such research would guarantee that the victims of experimentation died in vain, that nothing good came of their suffering. People who commit these acts should be punished to the full extent of the law for it is truly a crime against humanity, but punishing their victims with obscurity and pointless suffering is an insult. I’m curious as to what other people think? Feel free to comment or bring it up in class.