The gains of society which have made based on abhorrent evils are significant. I find it deeply unsettling, just how much of modern medicine is based on human experimentation and non-consensual research. Entire fields of medical study being based on research which violated the human rights of so many leads to questions about how mankind has benefitted from its capacity for evil. The accounts read on Dr. Sims and his use of enslaved women for practice before utilizing what he learned to cure Caucasian women is a story which to me, encapsulates the disturbing long term moral dilemma of unethical medical research. When research can benefit all women for generations to come and save countless lives, are we right to benefit and prosper off of them so long as we recognize their evil origins? The answer is not so simple.
No doubt we have all benefited from the evil deeds of medical practitioners like Dr. Sims. Whether directly or indirectly, a large part of male and female population alive today can chalk up their high odds of survival to the knowledge gained by Sims. I think ultimately what is important is to not excuse the horrors perpetrated in this way by lauding the men behind the knowledge. While it is important to acknowledge the sources of our knowledge and the individuals who brought about their development, we should always keep fresh in our minds the evils done by those we learn from. We should celebrate the life saving techniques we have today and use them, but vow never again to utilize the sordid methods which lead to their realization. Professor McCoy’s acknowledgment of this was something which caused me to think a great deal about ends justifying means and how this is never a mindset which we should fall into. Fortune’s bones has had me thinking of just how important it is to be intimate and not to look away from the horrors done in the name of progress.
I sincerely hope that when Doctor Porter dissected Fortune and had to look upon the damage done to his body, that he came to terms with what he did, and understood the full extent of the wrongs he had committed. When he wrote “I enter Fortune and he enters me.” I believe that the Doctor did come to understand that he had hurt a person, a father, a son, and a brother, tortured him for a lifetime and done a truly horrible thing. I believe that this kind of intimacy is important, not only for those who committed the horrible crime of slavery, but for us in the modern world for whom slavery can easily and dangerously become a distant memory bound to history books. It is important for Fortune’s Bones and the deep scars they bare to be visible in a museum. Despite being dead, Fortune’s body is a living reminder of what mankind is capable of when we abandon morality for the possibility of knowledge. We should never forget where our foundation has come from. We must always remember the evils done in the past so that we do not repeat them.
The most important thing to remember is that the legacy of harm which left its marks on Fortune’s bones is not limited to them. The legacy of racism and the racial complexities of our time are things we must always work to overcome in our personal lives. We can do this by recognizing where our power has come from and treating others with kindness and empathy.