Last year, I talked about Eunice Evers and the Tuskegee experiment. This year, I am going to talk about Lucy, Betsy and Anarcha. The first time I had ever heard this story was during a lecture on minorities and health disparities. In the times that these practices took place, medical professionals regularly took advantage of people especially minorities, the less fortunate (poor) and those who were uneducated. There were no laws or IRB to protect people. Even with laws to protect people, it still happens to this day.
My aunt lived in one of the most impoverished areas of the south. She recently died of cervical and breast cancer at age 46. We found out that she was part of a cancer experiment that administered 15 rounds of chemotherapy in one week as part of the treatment protocol. At the time of her death, she was still receiving chemotherapy IV infusions of Eloxatin. My family will have difficulty litigating because she signed a release. It is my sincere belief that she participated because she had no money to afford treatment, she was misinformed about the implications of the treatment and pride kept her from asking for help from the family. I dedicate this post to her, her surviving children and her grandchildren who are now orphans because of someone's lack of morals and ethics.
Many people refer to Dr. Marion Sims as the father of modern gynecology. He invented a tool called the speculum that is used to visualize the female reproductive anatomy. He also invented countless gynecological tools and and pioneered gynecological surgeries. Sounds great, right? Think again. This person was a physician back in the mid-1800's when medicine wasn't exactly a science. There was no evidence based practice and most of what was known about medicine was discovered by accident. As I am sure one could imagine, people weren't exactly lining up for treatment so what group of disadvantaged people were used for medical experiments that helped physicians like Dr. Sims develop instruments such as forceps and the speculum? If you guessed African slaves brought to America against their own will and immigrants, you are absolutely correct.
The slavemasters lost money if their slaves were incapable of working due to illness, so Dr. Sims was commissioned to remedy the ailments of slave women after childbirth. It is estimated that he performed hundreds of surgeries on slave women. Most of them are nameless, but there are three slaves in particular that Sims practiced on frequently. They were named Lucy, Betsy and Anarcha. Most of these surgeries were without anesthesia because it was believed that African Americans had higher pain thresholds than whites. Antibiotics weren't used, so after these surgeries, the patients developed overwhelming infections. It was through the sacrifice of Lucy, Betsy, Anarcha and many other slaves that helped physicians develop what we know today as modern medicine. ( I am almost positive experimenting on slaves must have been a popular practice among many physicians of the time.)
So ladies, the next time you are on the table in that uncomfortable position, think of how it must have felt for Anarcha, Lucy and Betsy and say a little prayer for them. Their unrecognized contribution to gynecology has made it possible for us to take better care of ourselves. I love you Auntie Rose, rest in peace.
Links to references
Author: Alexandria C. Lynch, MS III
J. Marion Sims:One Among Many Monumental Mistakes
Author: Wendy Brinker
J. Marion Sims, the Father of Gynecology: Hero or Villain?
Author: Jeffrey S sartin