Discrimination in the Medical World

Something in this class that has been talked about over and over again is discrimination. This has been talked about throughout the books we have read, the articles provided, and many other resources as well. Before this class I never thought about discrimination in the medical world. This was not a topic that was ever brought up to me before college. Even in my senior year while I was taking more advanced classes that were more college-like classes, I never learned about this kind of discrimination. We may have glanced over something like this in a history class along the way in high school, however, it was never really brought to my attention on this type of level. There was and still is so much discrimination in the medical world. There was obviously much more medical discrimination before slavery had been abolished but even after slavery was gone there was still an extreme amount of racism and even now there is still a lot of racism. Until I started digging into this subject and researching more, I found that there is still discrimination which I also was not aware of before now. 

Some very huge examples of discrimination that we read about were in a book called Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. We read chapters of this book throughout the semester. This book really opened my eyes to the problems in the medical community. Especially these problems I had never thought about. Starting in the times of slavery, was a chapter called “The Surgical Theater”. A man with jaw cancer had no choice but to have surgery on his jaw. He did not get to make the decision to have the surgery or not. Page 102 states “Sam was enslaved, so the decision was left not to him but to his owner, who was eager to return his slave to profitable work. Sam was sent to Montgomery despite his loud and constant protests.” Sam did not want the surgery because in his own words it “would hurt too bad”. In this time, it was not common to use effective anesthesia and sterile techniques. So, the surgery in this time would have been extremely painful and most likely would result in infections that could be fatal. After recuperating, Sam escaped so we don’t exactly know from this book how everything turned out with him. Sam was forced to have an extremely painful and risky surgery just because he was an African American during this time.

In this same chapter of the book, Dr. T. Sullivan ran advertisements for his infirmary. The advertisement read “Any persons having sick negroes, considered incurable by their respective physicians and wishing to dispose of them…”(page 103). These people had no legal rights and could not stop these doctors from incarcerating them and treating them. Dr. T. Sullivan tested new techniques and medications on the blacks while correctly treating the paying whites. He treated the sick African Americans like lab rats and experimented on them. The owners of the slaves were happy to give away their sickly slaves. I understand that this was during the time of slavery so discrimination towards African Americans was not uncommon at all. But to me I never thought about the other parts involved in being a slave. Not only were they owned and treated horribly by their owners, but they were also just sent away to be tested and experimented on by doctors who didn’t even think of these people as human.

In 2002, a more recent case from Medical Apartheid, an African American man by the name of James Quinn was implanted with an experimental artificial heart. Quinn spent the rest of his life, 9 months, in a hospital bed. He eventually was declared brain-dead. Many other cases just like this were appearing around the same time. On page 349 it says “Geography, tradition, and culture intersect to make blacks likely research subjects for new technologies, but race and economics tend to place them outside the marketplace for these same technologies when they are perfected.” These cases are all showing me that African Americans are much more likely to be tested on even now after slavery has been abolished. They get the not yet perfected treatments and then once they are perfected a lot of them can no longer afford these things.

Throughout the years African Americans have been discriminated against in the medical world. How much has the world changed since slavery? Yes, now they can choose their own treatment, but they are being offered the things that are not yet perfected. What percentage of these more experimental treatments are being offered to whites? There is a significantly higher percentage of the people who are black than white. If you thought discrimination in the medical world towards African Americans had significantly decreased maybe take another look. Lots of these things are not talked about anymore but this is still happening today. I was hardly taught anything about this in high school, and why is this? Do we ignore these problems? I have never heard about any of these things on the news but when you simply google search discrimination in the medical field today, lots of articles and cases about this show up. This is something that I believe should be taught to us growing up and something that should be completely eliminated today. It does not matter what your skin color is. Everyone should be getting the exact same medical treatment. I think if we are taught about this topic while growing up that we would have adults that are aware of these things and therefore it would be less likely to happen. Discrimination in the medical world needs to be talked about and awareness of this topic needs to be talked about.

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