Harriet Washington- 2015

Harriet Washington

Author and medical ethicist devoted to exposing the racist history of medical practice in this country

Horrific Secrets of Medical History

By Ethan Wright (Computer Science, Class of 2024) 

Harriet Washington is a famous author that published Medical Apartheid in 2007. This book helps contribute to why Washington is especially important with how African Americans are viewed in the history of medical science. She does this by bringing forward the truth about the abuse that African Americas have endured throughout the timeline of medical history. To uncover the truth in the medical history she gives multiple accounts of false representation of the events such as experiments, diagnoses, and treatments. Washington states a multitude of examples of when African Americans were being tricked and abused by the medical profession. 

As early as when salves began to populate America the physicians that were to treat slaves only keep the interest of the owner who is paying for their services in mind and not what is best for the slaves’ health. They would eventually conclude that slaves would fake their illnesses to get out of work. In Medical Apartheid it states that Dr. M. L. McLoud wrote about an experience on how he caught a slave faking an illness. He states, “The burning sensation shocked her into abandoning her performance” (Page 30) after he administered an overdose of corrosive white powder called ammonium carbonates. After he wrote a thesis based on this account the common treatment for slaves would be “nine drops of essence of rawhide” implying to just beat them to get better and they will work. Because of statements like these, incorrect information began to determine the general beliefs and value of the African American slave.  

Harriet Washington brings up multiple accounts of when physicians would target African Americans throughout medical history and deceive them into agreeing to whatever the physicians told them. In the “New York Amsterdam News” newspaper Washington was asked about how often the bodies of the poor and misfortune end up on anatomy tables. She replied with, “Historical data reveal a longstanding preference for African American bodies in medical research and studies of anatomy, without consent.” (Daa’iya 1). For another example, ­­Washington talks about Norplant, a physician-controlled long-term contraceptive. Norplant targeted poor black women and young African American girls that was not tested in a lab for effects. The article references more about this with, “placed pressure upon the school's clinic staff to achieve as near as 100 percent participation rate as possible, [even without parental consent]." (Daa’iya 1).  This is just one example out of many of how the medical field were able to target and push young black girls into agreeing to Norplant. There is a horrific side of medical history that has been hidden away from the public for a long time and has been skewed to make it appear more friendly and appealing.  

In the end Harriet Washington is important since she has helped bring the truth about the abuse that African Americans have endured throughout the medical history in America. With an extraordinary amount of circumstances where African Americans were abused and mistreated from physicians, Washington opens the door for the true events to appear to the public knowledge. She has worked hard to become a figure head when it comes to the mistreatment and abuse in the medical field against African Americans and hopefully with the truth known it will be harder for the medical field to continue their abuse and mistreatment. 

Works Cited 

Washington, Harriet. “The Ethics of Consent.” American Scholar, vol. 89, no. 4, Oct. 2020, pp. 12–13. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=asn&AN=145276288&site=ehost-live&scope=site. 

Bronski, Michael. “Uninformed and Unconsenting.” Publishers Weekly, vol. 253, no. 42, Oct. 2006, p. 43. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=asn&AN=22943161&site=ehost-live&scope=site.  

Cohen, William. “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.” International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, vol. 6, no. 4, Dec. 2009, pp. 356–360. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/aps.223.  

Sanusi, Daa’iya L. “Harriet Washington, Author of ‘Medical Apartheid,’ Visits Dr. John Henrik Clarke House.” New York Amsterdam News, vol. 98, no. 18, 26 Apr. 2007, p. 29. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=asn&AN=24947020&site=ehost-live&scope=site  

GLENN, LEIGH, and Harriet A. Washington. “The Green Solution?” American Scholar, vol. 85, no. 1, Winter 2016, p. 3. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=sso&db=asn&AN=111561140&site=ehost-live&scope=site.