Original image is from The Century Foundation

As a future health care worker, I am responsible to educate and spread awareness about the injustices that have happened to the Black community within the health care field. However, I am not trying to speak over any Black voices and am rather trying to amplify them. These are only few of the many cases in which the Black community has suffered due to the injustices within the health care field.

Henrietta Lacks

In 1951, a Black woman named Henrietta Lacks was treated at Johns Hopkins Hospital for a tumor on her cervix. It was discovered that her cells could be kept alive and would also grow indefinitely. Without obtaining her consent, doctors had collected and cultured her cells for 60+ years and have been using them in experiments. This has contributed to major advances in health care research. Her cells were commercialized and has generated millions of dollars for medical researchers who had patented her tissue. This was not only unethical for using her cells without consent, but also because her family was forced to bury her in an unmarked grave that did not have a tomb stone for almost 60 years after her death. In addition, her family did NOT receive any compensation or control over who uses the cells.

Tuskegee Syphilis Study

This was a clinical study in 1932 that was supposed to be conducted for 6 months but rather went on for 40 years. Researchers had begun this study to investigate the natural course of syphilis and to justify treatment for Black people. This had involved 600 Black males (399 with syphilis and 201 without). These participants were recruited WITHOUT informed consent and were not given the choice to leave the study. These men were told that they were being treated for “bad blood,” which was a term used to describe several illnesses such as syphilis and anemia. In exchange for participating, the men had received free medical examinations, free meals and burial insurance.

In July 1972, a press story about the Tuskegee study had caused a public outcry. A panel of 9 advisors from medicine, law, religion, education, health administration, labor and public health affairs to review it. This panel had found that the Black men who participated in the study had agreed to be examined and treated. However, there was no evidence that the researchers had informed them of the real purpose of the study. They had not given them all the information required to provide informed consent. In addition, they were not given treatment for their disease, even after when penicillin became the drug that was used to treat syphilis in 1947. The researchers had not offered the treatment to them.

This has caused the Black community to not have trust in the health care field and its workers, and has also resulted in less Black participants for other medical researches. The Tuskegee study has terrified many Black people within the country and has caused fear and trauma.

J. Marion Sims

James Marion Sims was a physician in the 19th century and is known as the father of gynecology. He has made many of the surgical techniques that is used today. While, he is an important figure in medicine, he had conducted many unethical experiments on African Americans. He believed that African Americans could not feel pain in comparison to Caucasians, and performed surgeries on enslaved Black women without anesthetics.

This issue is still prevalent in the health care system today. Many health care workers still believe that pain thresholds are different by race, especially for African Americans. Many African Americans are less likely to be given the right dosage of pain medications in comparison to Caucasians, whether it’s for surgeries, fractures, etcetera. It is extremely necessary to educate health care workers, especially doctors and nurses, and unlearn such beliefs. Treatment should not be based on the race of the person, but rather what the patient needs at that moment. It is very important to have treatment equality within the health care system.

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