OPINION | Medical community has exploited Black people for too long

Ritisha Sharma, Intersections Editor

Most of our medical knowledge has come from experiments carried on African American individuals, so why do these individuals receive the worst medical care in America today? (Maryam Tanveer)

Most of our medical knowledge today comes from experimentation on Black individuals, and yet they continue to be the demographic receiving the worst medical care in America?

Blatant medical violence against Black people has been apparent since as early as the third century AD. In the infamous depiction of the medieval “Miracle of the Black Leg,” wherein the patron saints of medicine, pharmacy and surgery, Saints Cosmas and Damian are seen attaching a limb from a Black corpse to that of a sick white man.

In this story, the Black man’s corpse is nonconsensually used for the benefit of a white man. Beyond that, in many renditions of the story, the white man’s diseased leg is attached to the Black corpse after his healthy limb is taken from him.

While for years this story was praised for being the first record of a successful leg transplant, it was only recently that people began questioning the ethics and racial impacts of this practice as well as how it has contributed to the way that medical experiments have been conducted since.

Even after the institutionalization of medicine in the 1700s, medical schools were unable to keep up with the demand for cadavers, leading to doctors to the reprehensible act of robbing fresh graves of Black people to use for dissection labs, anatomy lessons and medical experimentation till as recently as the 20th century.

But the medical community did not limit themselves to just Black corpses, running experiments on living and breathing Black people as well.

Many American medical researchers and physicians like J. Marion Sims, who is known as the father of modern gynecology, performed painful experiments, dissections and multiple surgeries on Black individuals while they were awake and without anything for the physical pain they endured.

Sims operated on over 10 enslaved Black women. One of them, Anarcha, was conscious through more than 30 surgeries without anesthesia 一 vivisections. However, whenever he performed these procedures on white women, he never failed to use anesthesia.

This disregard for Black lives and pain in the medical community is still heavily present today. 

After using Black people to build their medical arsenal, today most medical schools only teach their students how to diagnose conditions on white patients. This leads to massive health disparities against brown and Black communities.

Many physicians today do not know how to diagnose certain conditions in people of color because they were never taught how to. It was only last year that a book was published on how to diagnose diseases on Black and Brown skin.

This makes going to the doctor’s office as a person of color a genuinely scary experience, and currently, the medical field is not doing enough to help combat the fear in these communities.