New book focuses on medical apartheid

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When Harriet Washington, a med-school graduate and former fellow in ethics at Harvard Medical School, decided to research medical crimes against African-Americans, she feared she'd turn up much more than the Tuskegee experiment. She was right.

Washington's new book, "Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present," reveals that the 40-year Tuskegee study—which allowed black men with syphilis to die untreated so their cadavers could be used for research—was neither the first nor the last time that unwitting black subjects were exploited by medical researchers in the United States. "Tuskegee is just the most well-known example," says Washington, currently a visiting scholar at DePaul Law School.

"Medical Apartheid" starts with the chilling story of John (Fed) Brown, an escaped slave in 1855 who recalled his owner, a doctor, causing blisters on his arms and legs to see "how deep his black skin went." The study, if that's the word for it, had no therapeutic value. It reflected a distorted fascination with the outward appearance of African-Americans at a time when racial differences were thought to be much more than skin deep.

"One thing that surprised me," Washington told NEWSWEEK, "was the brutal honesty of the doctors' notes. There was no hiding their racist views. They made it clear how they felt about African-Americans and saw no problem with what they were doing. They were proud to write it down."

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