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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsThe ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ Performed Shocking Experiments on Slaves – History (Brynn Holland | August 2017)

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

The ‘Father of Modern Gynecology’ Performed Shocking Experiments on Slaves – History (Brynn Holland | August 2017)

Published/Released on August 29, 2017 | Posted by Admin on February 15, 2018 / , , , ,

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While such egregious abuses of ‘subjects’ (we intentionally use subjects rather than participants here) can seem a good inclusion in HRE professional development workshops for shock value, we’ve found the use of “why society cares about the governance of human research ethics” cases counterproductive. Even when the audience is all health science researchers, but especially when some of the audience contains social science, humanities and/or fine arts researchers. Such cases have the inherent flaw in that they refer to the <0.001% of researchers and perpetuate the adversarial climate between researchers and research ethics reviewers - see Colin, Mark and Gary's book chapter on the adversarial climate. For that reason, we suggest being judicious with the use of such cases.

James Marion Sims developed pioneering tools and surgical techniques related to women’s reproductive health, and is credited as the “father of modern gynecology.” The 19th-century physician has been lionized with statues in New York City, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
But because Sims’ research was conducted on enslaved black women without anesthesia, medical ethicists, historians and others have called for those monuments to be removed—or for them to be reconfigured as tributes to the enslaved women known to have endured his experiments.
Sims, who practiced medicine at a time when treating women was considered distasteful and rarely done, invented the vaginal speculum, a tool used for dilation and examination. He also pioneered a surgical technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula, a common 19th-century complication of childbirth in which a tear between the uterus and bladder caused constant pain and urine leakage.
Sims’s defenders say the Southern-born slaveholder was simply a man of his time for whom the end justified the means—and that enslaved women with fistulas were likely to have wanted the treatment badly enough that they would have agreed to take part in his experiments. But history hasn’t recorded their voices, and consent from their owners, who had a strong financial interest in their recovery, was the only legal requirement of the time.

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