Medical Oppression

Medical Experimentation on Black People

The generally accepted explanation why black people seek healthcare less frequently is because they have less education and lower income, which are valid reasons. Black folks tend to have less education and fewer social supports than Caucasians and are more likely to live in poverty with fewer resources.

However, many Black people, men in particular, are distrustful of doctors and the health care system and are more likely to avoid doctors. There is a historical basis for that distrust and fear, including the well known Tuskegee Experiment

Blink HealthMedical Apartheid

Dr. Harriet A. Washington wrote the book, "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present"; a history of medical experimentation on African Americans.

This book presents the first full account of America's medical mistreatment of black victims of medical experimentation.

Medical Apartheid is divided into three parts:

  • Cultural memory of medical experimentation
  • Recent cases of medical abuse and research
  • Complex relationship between racism and medicine.

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My Mother

My mother is 81 years old as I write this. She has been medically misdiagnosed at least twice. The most dramatic and potentially most damaging misdiagnosis occurred in the 1960's, near the time of my birth. My mother visited Barnes Hospital because she was having back pain. She was told she needed back surgery because of a herniated disk.

My mother left Barnes and walked a few blocks down to Jewish Hospital. She stated she was having back pains and didn't disclose that she had just left Barnes. The doctor at Jewish  explained her back pain was simply a symptom of the common cold. Needless to say my mother did not have back surgery; has never returned to Barnes as a patient and is today very fit and active. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about most of her closest friends.

Barnes, Children and Jewish Hospitals were originally all separate organizations. According to the website BJC HealthCare was created in 1993 when Barnes-Jewish Inc. merged with Christian Health Services to create a system consisting of a large urban teaching facility and a network of suburban community hospitals. In 1994 Missouri Baptist Medical Center and St. Louis Children's Hospital also joined BJC HealthCare.

Mother's Friends

One of my mother's closest friend, a wonderfully sweet woman, who was like an "aunt" to me, never had children of her own. My mother visited her friend while she was in the hospital for some minor illness or injury. My pretend "aunt" told my mother, "I think they did surgery on me". My mother asked to see the area she was talking about.

Forced Sterilization

When the only thing my mother saw was a band-aid, she dismissed her friend's concerns and in effect told her she was over reacting. Several months later, while my mother was reading the newspaper, she came across an article about a medical procedure known as band-aid surgery and immediately called her friend. Upon answering my mother's call, her friend replied, "you saw the newspaper article didn't you? I think the hospital sterilized me".

NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams aired a story, "State of Shame," about North Carolina's forced sterilization program. 

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood has been in the news lately because of a video allegedly catching Planned Parenthood officials selling the body parts of aborted babies. The video shocked many across the nation, especially those unfamiliar with the racist beliefs and practices of Margaret Sanger, founder of the organization that would later become Planned Parenthood.


During the seventies and eighties, five of my mother's closest friends had mammograms and most of them tried to convince her to get one too. My mother explained that she never planned to get a mammogram. She told them, if you keep getting those test, one day they'll find something.

She was right! Everyone of my mother's closest friends that received regular mammograms were eventually diagnosed with breast cancer. All but one of those friends has since passed away. More than 25 years ago, the one surviving friend was eventually told that her other breast would also have to be removed; she refused to submit to that surgery and is still alive and well today.

I'm not suggesting or instructing any woman not to get a mammogram. That's a personal decision for women to make with her doctor.

Mammography is the most widely used screening modality, with solid evidence of benefit for women aged 40 to 74 years. However, the National Cancer Institute reports that approximately 50% of women screened annually for 10 years in the United States will experience a false positive.

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Hospital Scores

Aren’t all hospitals safe? Sadly, no. The Hospital Safety Score grades hospitals on how safe they keep their patients from errors, injuries, accidents, and infections. One St. Louis Hospital received a "D" and several others "C". 

Selecting the Right Hospital Can Reduce Your Risk of Avoidable Death by 50%, According to Analysis of Newly Updated Hospital Safety Score Grades


50 Secrets Hospitals Don’t Want to Tell You (But Every Patient Should Know)

Editorial note: Concerning the teaching hospital recommendation. Decades ago, I read the book, "What your doctor didn't learn in medical school". The author recommends avoiding elective surgury during the summer because that's when hospitals receive new medical school graduates and summer time patients will be the ones they first practice on.


How to cope with old medical debt

See related topic: Educational Oppression

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