POC and the Politics of Medical Research
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Poor, black families used as test subjects for sludge. This was done in the late 90’s. They didn’t tell any of the people in the study what exactly was meant by the term bio-solid, nor did they tell them of the potential health risks. I assume most people are aware of what happened at Tuskegee and that in the aftermath the government took another 25 years to apologize for what had been done to these men and their families. I wonder though if people are aware of the experiments done by Dr. James Marion Sims (acclaimed as the founder of modern gynecology) on females slaves, or by Dr. Orlando Andy using lobotomy on young black males in the 1960’s as a “therapeutic” treatment for institutionalized black children. He wasn’t alone in his beliefs, in fact similar experiments were conducted on adult black males that were incarcerated during the Civil Rights Movement. Funny how this treatment wasn’t considered therapeutic for white criminals.
There was a lot of uproar over Reverend Wright’s comments about AIDS being deliberately engineered by the government, and in the absence of historical knowledge about the U.S. government’s willingness to experiment on POC it does sound far-fetched. But, once you start looking at the treatment of POC in medical experiments you begin to understand why so many POC don’t trust the government to have their best interests in mind. There were several initiatives devoted to the sterilization of WOC. This went on for decades and was done in conjunction with locking away children that were deemed to be “feeble-minded” in an effort to “improve” the population via eugenics.
In fact after the apology was made for the Tuskegee experiment in 1997; it was revealed that children in New York were being used as guinea pigs in a study using a (now) banned diet drug fenfluramine (a component of the infamous Fen-phen) to investigate whether or not brain chemistry could indicate a predisposition toward violence or other criminal behaviors. There was no medical benefit for these children. In fact taking them off the ADD medication they were on in order to perform this experiment could have adversely affected their quality of life.
It would be nice to claim that these abuses are a thing of the past, but there was a range of studies done in at least 7 states through as late as 2005 using HIV infected foster children to test AIDS medication. For some kids the research might indeed have helped them. But there was at least one study where
“…researchers reported a “disturbing” higher death rate among children who took higher doses of a drug. That study was unable to determine a safe and effective dosage.”
They sought permission to conduct these studies from the local agencies, and then didn’t bother to adhere to even the basic protocol of ensuring that these children had independent advocates to oversee their treatment. They went forth with these experiments even though they knew they were giving them medications that had already proven to be toxic for some adults.
Harriet Washington’s book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present that goes into much greater detail about the individual experiments that she’s been able to uncover, but I’m sure (especially given the most recent example) that there are still experiments being done in America that put the health of POC at risk. That doesn’t even touch on the experiments going on in Third World locations. Does that mean that AIDS was specifically cooked up in a laboratory to infect POC? No. But, the way in which POC have historically been treated as guinea pigs in experiments of dubious scientific value, and the way in which the bodies of COC have been commodified so that even their parents aren’t told of potential risks is enough to make anyone look askance at their government and wonder just what they haven’t been told this time.
Karnythia is a writer, a historian, and occasionally a loud mouth. In between raising hell and raising kids she usually manages to find time to contemplate the meaning of life as a black woman in America. Her posts on any topic can be found at her Livejournal.