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General News    H3'ed 11/23/09

If a Tree Falls: If a Patient is Assaulted Under Anesthesia

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Message Mary Birmingham

Opportunistic philosophers (linked to eugenics) and emerging pharmaceutical companies offered the allopath the American Medical Association (A.M.A.), an organization that would seek the elimination of competition and control over medical education and the market, ensuring the high income of the allopathic doctor. The objective of the AMA, was to eliminate patient choice, "to secure a government-enforced medical monopoly and high incomes for mainstream doctors." 2. The A.M.A. lumped ALL sorts of medical care, including midwifery, in with snake oil salesmen, and lobbied for legislation eliminating their competition. Alternatives were all but eliminated from for-profit medical care. The poor, however, sustained medical care in the form of the old women and men passing on home remedies and basic medical knowledge.

One might assume the poor simply could not afford the allopath, or lived more remote lives, and both are true, but the situation was not so simple. While profit driven medical care was reserved for the privileged, patients with money and social status have not only the ability to pay the bill, but also the means to retaliate should the physician deviate from a professional standard of care and the patient suffer. This made the physicians paying customers risky research subjects. Physicians learned early on to treat privileged white males (those who can afford to pay for their medical care and lawyer fees) with more respect.

In the late 1700s a Mr.Slater sued a Dr. Stapleton and Dr. Baker for re-breaking a poorly healed bone. The court found in favor of Mr. Slater because the defendants acted, "contrary to known standard of care and did so without the informed consent of the subject." Although, the treatment turned out to set a new standard of care in the end, the courts decision did not turn on the success of the experiment, but on the lack of informed consent, that the patient, "...may take courage and put himself in such a situation as to enable him to undergo the operation". 3. (Slater v Baker and Stapleton (1797) 95 English Reports 860.)

Physicians not eager to give up their Godlike position to treat people as less that full subjects; but, also wanting to make money without being sued, learned to treat the more privileged according to the standard of care, and experiment on those less likely to sue. While being offered little in terms of medical care (medicine administered in their interest), these subjugated groups served as a resource for human lab rats upon which to test this or that drug, treatment, or procedure. Financial and other coercive means were employed in some cases, others downright deception. Informed consent, in any meaningful sense of the word, was rarely sought. Thus, the poor had more than simple economic inability to pay keeping them from seeking medical care from "outsiders", and in particular from the allopath. 4.

With the advent of surgery; however, physicians needed more than lab rats, they needed living cadavers. While drafted soldiers may "volunteer" to be lab rats in order to avoid being sent to kill others, and many patients can unknowingly be injected with this or that, surgical experimentation presents the problem of being impossible to hide from the patient. Given the extreme nature of surgery and the very high infection rate at the time, (rendering surgery a very risky proposition), it was virtually impossible to acquire "consent".

The allopath turned to non-free peoples as a resource for breathing cadavers. Subjects with absolutely no freedom to object, slaves, poor mental health patients, and prisoners of war became prime targets for some of the most vial forms of human exploitation. Dr J Marion Sims,(1813-1884) the "father of modern Gynecology", and the first physician to have a statue erected in his honor in the United States, provides a particularly atrocious, if not unique, example. Doctor Sims avoided the problem of a scarcity in "voluntary" subjects by using African American slave women. The problem of patient autonomy and the need for consent was avoided, and not thinking of the women as human subjects, Dr. Sims operated on his slave and Irish female subjects without anesthesia, something he dare not do to women of privilege. The condition for which Sims sought a cure, " was largely caused within the slave population by malnourishment and/or pregnancies at a young age, such that the pelvic was underdeveloped leading to prolonged obstructed labors. Dr. Sims not only did not do anything to help the condition of these women, he used them, and their unborn. Most of the women used in his experiments died, many after suffering for weeks. When slave owners refused him further access to their property, he purchased slaves, the first a seventeen year old slave girl he called Anarcha for $500 upon which he performed over 30 operations within a few months in spite of the fact that his own records indicate she was cured after the 13th surgery. There is no reason to assume the slaves he purchased (particularly given the price) were always afflicted prior to Sims' experiments. Anarcha's condition (several vaginal tears) was the result of a three-day labor, and then a rough forceps (another of Sims' inventions) assisted delivery by Dr. Sims, an experimental procedure in which he had no previous experience, using an experimental tool still controversial to this day. While you can read modern apologists who insinuate that these procedures may have been voluntary, these women were slaves, anesthesia was not used (until post surgery so Sims would not have to listen to their moans), and the number of surgeries performed on single subjects were in the double digits. People were asked to hold the women down, most of who after a couple of times could no longer stomach the task, nor Dr. Sims. 5 There is every reason to assume the bulk of these women did not "volunteer" and the girl(s) he purchased most certainly did not.

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Just one citizen struggling to regain American Democracy. I am a bit of a intellectual jack of all trades master of none. I have studied, economics, sociology, philosophy, womens studies, and political science at a graduate level.
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