Thursday, April 3, 2008

Books I can’t face

I have a pretty strong stomach as a reader: I’ve read books about the killings in Rwanda and Cambodia, and I have a shelf of books on the Holocaust. But there are some books I feel I should read but just can’t face. Not yet, at least. One of these is Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. I knew about the Tuskegee experiments, but not about Thomas Jefferson exposing slaves to an experimental smallpox vaccine. And I certainly didn’t know about more recent medical experiments on black people. From the Washington Post:
In 1945, Ebb Cade, an African American trucker being treated for injuries received in an accident in Tennessee, was surreptitiously placed without his consent into a radiation experiment sponsored by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. Black Floridians were deliberately exposed to swarms of mosquitoes carrying yellow fever and other diseases in experiments conducted by the Army and the CIA in the early 1950s. Throughout the 1950s and '60s, black inmates at Philadelphia's Holmesburg Prison were used as research subjects by a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist testing pharmaceuticals and personal hygiene products; some of these subjects report pain and disfiguration even now. During the 1960s and '70s, black boys were subjected to sometimes paralyzing neurosurgery by a University of Mississippi researcher who believed brain pathology to be the root of the children's supposed hyperactive behavior. In the 1990s, African American youths in New York were injected with Fenfluramine — half of the deadly, discontinued weight loss drug Fen-Phen — by Columbia researchers investigating a hypothesis about the genetic origins of violence.
I’m sure it’s an important book, and I’m sure I’ll read it sometime. Just not now.

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