It is always depressing to read how black people suffered abuse and discrimination at the hands of fellow human beings. No other human race has gone through what black people were subjected to by their slave masters.
Aside from living under inhumane conditions and enduring many hours of forced labor, black people were also used as guinea pigs for medical experiments. Countless black slaves died while undergoing these tests.
Here, we take a look at some of the most unethical medical tests that used black people as guinea pigs.
Also referred to as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, this was a scandalous clinical experiment carried out from 1932 to 1972 by the American Public Health Service for purposes of observing the natural progression of untreated syphilis in poor African-American communities in Alabama.
In partnership with Tuskegee University, the American government enrolled a total of six hundred poor black men; 399 of whom had previously contracted the sexually transmitted disease. The remaining 201 didn’t have the disease.
The “volunteers” were promised free medical care, meals and free burial insurance, but very few of them lived to enjoy the rewards. When the funds for treatment were withdrawn, the government secretly continued with the study without informing the men that they would never be treated. Most of the men died of syphilis along with their wives, while others gave birth to children with congenital syphilis.
Unfortunately, nobody was held responsible for their deaths. The only redress offered was a presidential apology issued by President Bill Clinton in 1997.
In his quest for an effective treatment for vesicovaginal fistula, a serious vaginal complication that causes great pain, a controversial American physician by the name of James Marion Sims resorted to using enslaved black women for his experiments.
It is alleged that Mr. Sims performed surgeries on his subjects without anesthesia. He argued that the operations were not painful enough to warrant any form of anesthesia. Sims further reasoned that “black people did not feel as much pain as white people”, and therefore didn‘t require anesthesia during surgery. Many women died at the hands of the man who some people now regard as “the father of modern gynecology”.
On Saturday last week, a group of female protesters staged a peaceful protest at Central Park, New York demanding the removal of Dr. Sims’s statue from the park, arguing that it is a symbol of oppression.
In the early 1800s, a 20-year-old woman from South Africa called Sarah Baartman was captured and transported to Europe where she, along with another woman from the Khoikhoi ethnic tribe in South Africa, was put on display for a “freak show” attraction.
Despite a major uproar and strenuous legal battles to force the European government to return the women to Africa, the two remained in captivity for what was considered to be scientific studies until they died. After her death, Baartman’s body was dismembered and her sexual organs and brain put on display in the Musee de l’Homme in Paris.
Even though most of the scientific studies done in the early days have played a key role in the development of modern medicine, it must always be remembered that some of them were conducted at the expense of poor black people under the most cold-blooded circumstances.
by Fredrick Ngugi