Blog 8: Remembering Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey: The Mothers of Modern Gynecology

For this week’s class, we read and listened to pieces relating to how feminist activism can influence health and medicine. I wanted to focus on an NPR podcast (The Hidden Brain) titled, “Remembering Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey: The Mothers of Modern Gynecology” featuring Vanessa Gamble and Bettina Judd. The podcast discussed how during the 1800s, a physician named Dr. James Marion Sims, known as the father of modern gynecology, practiced unethical experimentation on enslaved black women. There are currently 3 statues of Dr. Sims in the United States, and the podcast discussed whether these statues are right to still be standing. Dr. Sims experimented on both black and white women, the difference being that he didn’t use anesthesia when experimenting on black women because there was a common belief that black people could handle more pain than white people. While Dr. Sims did eventually solve how to fix the vesicovaginal fistula that many women tear after giving birth, many women suffered from his experiments.

As soon as I knew what was going on within this podcast, I immediately thought of the Nuremburg trials against Nazi physicians who experimented on victims of the Holocaust while resulted in a code of ethics to be put in place against human experimentation. I also thought of Henrietta Lacks, a black woman whose cells were taken without her permission because they multiplied at such a fast rate. Although within the medical field we’ve benefit from these unethical experiments, it leaves most people sick to their stomachs when they realize how we’ve gained this knowledge. From all three of these cases, with Dr. Sims, the Nazi experimentation, and Henrietta Lacks, we see that these people were experimented on because they were all treated like property and taken advantage of. In the podcast, Gamble mentions that black people are still not treated the same way as white people when they are in the hospital. I also think it’s fair to say that many people who present as poor, uneducated, and drug-addicted are not treated with the same respect in hospitals.

My mom, who is a licensed clinical social worker, works in hospitals often and constantly battles the healthcare system. She has found that when she hasn’t been at the hospital to advocate for my uncle who just had a heart attack that things have gone wrong or he hasn’t gotten the care he has needed. It’s a shame that people who are unconscious or not in their right state of mind in the hospital need professional advocates there to make sure that they get the right medication or are checking up on things that many healthcare professionals overlook or don’t have time to look into. Even family members who don’t understand the healthcare system are sometimes unable to advocate for the patient’s needs. It’s scary to think that the healthcare system, the people who are licensed to care for sick people, still needs revamping. My question based on this week’s podcast is, what other current issues in healthcare can we relate back to experimentation on enslaved black women by Dr. Sims?