When a clinical researcher sets out on a course of experimentation, he or she must weigh the costs and benefits. The result of this calculation is predictable when the researcher places no value on the cost to the study subjects. The culture of slavery relies on the belief that the slaves are inferior beings, so it is no surprise that medical doctors cheaply traded the welfare of black subjects for the possibility of medical progress. The cultural impact of slavery did not end with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Some examples: Antebellum medical schools competed for students by advertising their access to African American patients. For instance, the Savannah Medical College boasted that its black patients provided “abundant clinical opportunities for the studying of disease.” Surgery at the Medical College of South Carolina was performed only on blacks. Beginning in 1830, Dr. Francois Marie Prevost performed 30 of 37 experimental cesarean sections on slaves. In 1852, Dr. Marion Sims, the “father of gynecology,” reported in the Journal of the American Medical Sciences that on his thirtieth attempt with slave women – probably without their informed consent and perhaps without their consent at all – he successfully repaired a vesicovaginal fistula (without anesthesia). Mr. Sims’ choice of subjects was understandable given their availability, controllability and freedom for exploitation.