Medical apartheid

NACCHO Book Club: Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present

Dec 08, 2020 | Emily Yox

Each month, NACCHO will bring you a new public health book, read and reviewed by NACCHO staff. We hope to provide a well-rounded reading list that you will find enjoyable as well as informative.

This book is one of the best historical compilations of the abuses of Black Americans done in the name of science and health. Coining the term “Iatrophobia” or the fear of medicine (iatros-healer and phobia-fear), Harriet Washington describes a litany of examples of doctors and scientists using Black Americans for experimentation and research. This is crucial background for anyone in public health because as Washington puts it “Although less rife, [medical abuse] remains a contemporary reality, and an ever-present possibility.”

Describing well-known abuses such as the Tuskegee syphilis study and abuses of slaves for the benefit of white medical care, Washington also discusses some abuses that were new to me. It was published in 2006, so it’s almost 15 years old, this book remains one of the most comprehensive histories of medical abuses toward Black Americans.

She concludes by describing the need for Black Americans to participate in sound and ethical medial research, as iatrophobia has resulted in a lack of diverse representation in medical research. Understanding their fear and the whole history behind it (vs. just assuming it is the result of an overreaction to the Tuskegee experiment alone) is crucial to reaching out to this community, especially because this iatrophobia has extended to acceptance of COVID vaccines, perhaps the most crucial public health initiative of our time.


About Emily Yox

Emily Yox is a Program Analyst for the Global Health program at NACCHO.

More posts by Emily Yox

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