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Medical Apartheid: Bad Medicine


Apartheid is a term according to modern-day dictionaries that originated from the South African revolution and the termination of the Botha government. When apartheid is combined with other words there may be somewhat of a gray area in interpretation.
When a reader comes across the term medical apartheid, it is defined as the medical experimentation on humans. However medical apartheid can also be used to reference the social disparity, seen when one looks at the availability of health care and the issues of social or economic factors preventing adequate health care in regards to the poor.

When OW investigated the issue of medical apartheid in the United States, the most prominent example of social disparity existing today is the closure of hospitals in urban areas serving poor ethnic communities.
Medical apartheid present day
A clear example of such medical apartheid and social disparity in South Los Angeles was the closing of King-Drew Medical Center. This facility, borne out of the Watts riots in August 1965, was never fully funded, staffed nor supervised properly to serve the often, maligned residents of this bedroom community just south of downtown Los Angeles.

King-Drew provided a valuable service to a community which, until the early 1970s, did not have a hospital to serve its residents. A similar scenario is evident in minority communities nationwide, particularly with the economic downturn caused by the current recession brought on by the the failed economic policies of former President George W. Bush. During tough financial times, cutbacks from state and county officials often strike minority communities first, and the subsequent elimination of vital health care services can literally lead to unsafe and unwise personal medical decisions and, ultimately dire situations regarding health maintenance.

When we look at the other end of medical apartheid and human experimentation, we come across pharmaceutical studies that have taken place in poverty-stricken areas and involve poor, ethnic children. One the most infamous in South Los Angeles involved an immunization given to minority children in June 1990, known as the Edmonston Zagreb measles vaccine; this was done with the fraudulently-gained consent of their parents. The experiment involved Kaiser Permanente, the Los Angeles County Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The experiment involved more than 700 “mostly minority babies” being injected with experimental vaccines. This vaccine was given to inhabitants of Third World countries earlier and had a reputation overseas for triggering deaths in infants.

On the East Coast at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in New York City, a similar scenario played out in 1997 involving 34 healthy boys, ages 6 to 10, who were younger brothers of convicted delinquents.

This psychotropic study was non-therapeutic and its motive was to prove a hypothesis about aggressive behavior and brain chemistry. The hypothesis stated that socially adverse child rearing conditions may affect brain chemistry in a way that contributes to chronic aggression. Test subjects were 44 percent African American and 56 percent Hispanic, all from improverished families exposed to other factors such as poor parenting, gangs, etc. The test subjects were all healthy and the only other issue they had, besides ill social conditions, was poverty. This experiment was partially federally funded and involved giving the test subjects an oral dose of fenfluramine hydroxide, after they had fasted for 12 hours. The boys were allowed to drink water only and their blood was drawn hourly. Clinicians conducting similar experiments involving fenfluramine and used hamsters and primates as test subjects. This selection of animals may have been due to fenfluramine’s side effects that include anxiety, fatigue, headache, lightheadedness, diarrhea, nausea, a feeling of being “high,” and irritability. Fenfluramine was an ingredient in Fen-Phen diet pills, and was pulled from the market in 1997 due to reports of heart valve disease.

Medical apartheid synopsis of the past

The infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Study of African American men has been a qualified benchmark in the revelation of the unethical treatment and subjugation of men and women in so-called legitimate scientific research. Such unethical experimentation has a long, dark history going back to the 1700s. One example involves the art of training physicians. Medical schools have always required a constant supply of cadavers for an adequate understanding of anatomy, and the only legal source of cadavers, in the past, came from condemned convicts found guilty of heinous crimes such as homicide. Once executed, their bodies were used as medical school cadavers. However, this did not meet the demand, and as a result of shortages, African American graveyards were often robbed to provide specimens for instruction and training.
In December 1882, six African American bodies were taken from a graveyard in Philadelphia and their destination was Jefferson Medical school, according to the Philadelphia Press which broke the story.

No one will ever know how many Black Americans have suffered human experimentation. But the following African Americans in this article are just a few of those who have served medical science willing or unwillingly in what clinicians thought was a way to serve mankind without consideration of the individual.

The Anarcha, Betsy, Lucy and OB/GYN
During the Victorian era the process of examining women by physicians was a very difficult task. This was due to Victorian era customs that frowned on exposure of a female’s body. This limited the knowledge of diseases of women in the United States, until African slaves were introduced. Since African slaves were not considered human, practitioners were allowed to probe and perform vaginal exams, without being concerned about humiliating the female patient. James Mariom Sims, M.D. performed research on African slaves during the 19th century. Sims felt using Black bodies to learn about White bodies was okay. His medical experiments on a Black female slave known as Anarcha suffering from vesicovaginal fistula (an abnormal opening between the bladder and uterus) allowed him to perform the procedure on White females, once it had been practiced and perfected on slaves.

This procedure was performed without anesthesia and in a makeshift, unsterile plantation slave hospital due to the belief that Africans were subhuman and anesthesia had no effect on them. A journal entry of Sims described the pain of a female slave, Lucy, as being extreme -“she was much prostrated, and I thought she was going to die.”

Betsy, an African slave of Sims is portrayed in a painting awaiting a vaginal exam by a metroscope (primitive speculum). Sims once commented to colleagues, before opening a slave’s vagina with a speculum, that he sees what no man has seen before.
Between 1846 and 1849, Sims used African slaves as guinea pigs in vaginal surgery, and he is credited with being the father of gynecology, inventing the speculum and other gynecological techniques.

Unlimited Black skin

During the early 1950s and up to the mid 1970s, it was very common to have non-therapeutic medical experiments taking place on African American prison inmates. These were conducted under the supervision of dermatologists and other researchers working in various fields. They observed the reaction of man’s largest organ, human skin, and its reaction to chemical injections, and various types of hazardous exposure. During the 1950s and 1960s it was very common to see an African American male with symmetrical patches on his back resembling a checker board while sunbathing during the summer near the Delaware river. Those were the signs of a former inmate who had voluntarily or involuntarily been impregnated with experimental pharmaceuticals leaving permanent scarring.

Clinical trails of this type were not limited to pharmaceutical companies. Cosmetic companies also used the skin of Blacks. For example, African American inmates at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia were the recipients of injections and radioactive exposure. Inmates were also used to study various skin diseases encountered during World War II. The University of Pennsylvania, Dow Chemical, Johnson and Johnson, the U.S. Army and the CIA oversaw or sponsored these experiments.

Henrietta Lacks’ HeLa cells

The implausible legacy of Henrietta Lacks at once sounds like the opus of human providence, yet is resolutely muted within the lingering, pungent din and mire of medical apartheid.

Lacks was a Virginia tobacco farmer who, in 1951, was diagnosed with cervical cancer, and the appearance of tumors was foreign to the examining doctor at Johns Hopkins University. Prior to receiving treatment for the tumor, the cells from the carcinoma were removed without permission for research. Lacks’ condition worsened, and the Hopkins team treated her with antibiotics, thinking that her problem might have been complicated by an underlying venereal disease. In significant pain and without improvement, Lacks returned to Hopkins demanding treatment and blood transfusions to no avail and died of ureic poisoning at age 31.

The cells from Lacks’ tumor were given to researcher George Gey, who discovered that the woman’s cells could be kept alive–unheard of at the time. These were the first human cells grown in a lab; considered “immortal” they could be used in experiments such as those conducted by Dr. Jonas Salk in search of a vaccine for polio. Lacks’ cells were quickly put into mass production for the first-ever cell production factory, and have subsequently been used worldwide for research into cancer, AIDS, the effects of radiation and toxic substances, gene mapping and many other scientific pursuits. Today, scientists have grown more than 50 million metric tons of her cells.
African Americans have disproportionately borne the burden of the most invasive, inhumane and perilous medical experimentations from the era of American slavery to the present day. The burden has become global in the last few decades as the AIDS pandemic has inundated much of the continents of Africa and Asia (rapid increases in positive diagnosis in India and China) along with the many poverty-stricken nations of the Caribbean.

Shielding Whites from risky and ultimately unethical experimentation has been a powerful motivation for using people of African descent, as well, in the multi-million-dollar health care industry worldwide. The infringement on African American’s rights over their own bodies, in the name of medical science, continues until the early part of the 21st century and remains a shameful, disreputable aspect of genetic science.

Federal and state forensic DNA databases (deoxyribonucleic acid or the “building block” of life) contain a disproportionate number of samples from African Americans. Because genetic samples collected for this purpose carry information about a subject’s health, African Americans are particularly vulnerable to this dissemination of sensitive medical information. And more often than not, poor African Americans, usually agree to seek medical care, when the symptoms of illness are so great that the disease has steadily ravaged the body to the point that the individual often has only months to live.

Although President Barack Obama has successfully led the effort to pass a universal health care mandate, African Americans continue to regard the medical profession and its attendant services with apprehension, despite the more stringent safeguards for drug purity and a more inclusive mission statement that strives for increased equitable access for citizens.

A few years ago a clinical trial by the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta focused on the circumstances of health care maintenance of the gay African American community, which lags far behind its White counterpart when it comes to information on preventative steps to avoid HIV; access to the new medicines that have proven successful in lengthening lives; and overcoming the base stigma of the gay lifestyle.

The trial showed that African American men have a much higher incidence of contracting HIV, are less likely to know they are sick with the disease, and coupled with poverty, cultural standards and, in general, poor life choices help encourage “full-blown” AIDS and early death.

In America, Blacks make up about 12.8 percent of the population, but astoundingly comprised 50 percent of new diagnoses of HIV as late as 2003, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Census Bureau. The center’s home state of Georgia was cited with 78 percent of people diagnosed with AIDS and 81 percent of people diagnosed with HIV as late as 2005.

“African American men are disproportionately affected by HIV and underrepresented in clinical trials,” said Melanie Thompson, lead investigator for the CDCP trials. “We are testing in order to know whether a drug is safe for people with the condition who will ultimately use the (HIV) drug.”
She said that some 43 percent of men enrolled in the AIDS drug study were African American, but many others, she noted, were reluctant to take part because of misunderstandings about what the study entailed and a general fear within the African American community about clinical trials.
The real fear of government medical testing has a legitimate foundation within the African American community, which has been the subject of on-going psychiatric experiments for the past 60 years. In 1974, a UCLA psychiatrist categorized African Americans as a violent race and attempted to appropriate more than $1 million from the government to establish a center on violence at a U.S. Army missile base in California.

Some of the studies that this psychiatrist proposed included forced administration of a chemical castration drug to all of the men. The detection of violent people through chromosomal studies (that he claimed he could do) and the use of remote bioelectrical changes in the brain of human subjects were a mainstay of his experiments. He wanted to implant electrodes so that any time an African American man had an impulse toward anger or violence it would release a drug into the brain that would sedate him. Radiation experiments were also carried out on African American women, and they were administered lifetime doses of radiation at a single instance.

Another experiment using psychiatric drugs for treatment of delirium tremens (commonly known as the “DTs” or “shakes” among those recovering from alcoholism) was carried out on 33 African Americans and one White person. Two patients died and four others developed serious complications, including one who attempted to jump from the third floor of the hospital, after he had been given anal injections of paraldehyde–an extremely caustic and toxic chemical similar to the chlorine used to clean sewage treatment facilities or your backyard pool.

For more than two decades, American researchers have focused intense scrutiny on the genetics of violence among young African American boys. To families and host communities, the youth may have been misbehaving, acting out or testing boundaries by breaking set mores against a certain machismo of bullying, fighting or even minor shoplifting. To the majority of the psychiatric community, however, they were classified mentally ill. University psychiatrists who present research papers on the subject, teachers who are charged with assessing the needs of special education students and persons working within the juvenile justice system have traditionally labeled these boys with such psychiatric ailments as conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and attention-deficit hyper-activity disorder.

These diagnoses often confuse one child’s disagreeable behavior with the next child’s desire to break the law. Such a psychiatric diagnosis toward malice–whether it is mental illness or not–can consign a child into a limbo between the law and a lifetime of psychiatric medicine thus relegating him or her to the legion of social outcasts.

“The experimental exploitation of African Americans is not an issue of the last decade or even the past few decades,” states Dr. Harriet Washington whose 2006 book “Medical Apartheid” examines the history of unethical medical experimentation upon African Americans. “Dangerous, involuntary and non-therapeutic experimentation upon African Americans has been practiced widely and documented extensively at least since the 18th century.” Further, Washington explains, the much discussed health gap between Black and Whites is not a gap but rather a deep chasm, “wider and deeper than a mass grave,” she noted.

“This gulf,” Washington continued, “has separated our nation so dramatically that it appears as if we were considering the health profiles of people in two different countries.

Such beliefs are at the core of unethical medical experimentation on African Americans, because a segment of society believes it is guided by divine providence to hasten the return of the (presumably White, Gentile) Messiah.

The logical resource for skeptical African Americans is to adopt a continued vigilance against the singular unethical aspect of the American medical establishment and to resolve to fight against discrimination in health and quality-of-life issues that, if left unchecked, can result in irreparable harm to the social fabric of the nation whose credo “…with liberty and justice for all” stands as beacon of hope and faith for the world.

Medical Apartheid continues to exist today in the United States and is directly tied to this country’s ill social-economic conditions. This medical injustice affects the livelihood of the poor and minorities, and is a major issue the Obama administration is attempting to correct.