Many people may fondly remember Dr. J. Marion Sims as a medical pioneer. However, the Black community still feels the scars left by his “progress” on female slaves in America.

In recent months, many states saw statues of Confederate soldiers and historical figures taken down. The NYC Public Design Commission followed this trend on Monday (April 16), voting unanimously to take down the statue of the “father of modern gynecology” Dr. Sims. In 1855, the doctor opened the first hospital just for women. His pioneering led to the technique for repairing a vesicovaginal fistula, which was a condition that obstructed childbirth. Despite these medical accolades, there was a deeper, more sinister method to the good doctor’s success. He gained these medical advancements by savage experimentation on black women.

J-Marion-Sims-Gynecologic-Surgeon

Experimentation on Blacks in America is nothing new. See below:

  • From the Tuskegee Experiment, where poor blacks were unwittingly part of a syphilis study.
  • The cloning of Henrietta Lacks‘ cell for medical study: without her or her family’s consent, Henrietta’s cells were cloned from her cervix and the medical records were published way after her death.
  • Experimental measles vaccines: The CDC notoriously hid the results that these MMR vaccines increased the risk of autism in Black children under three years old.
  • Dr. Sims conducting multiple experiments on enslaved women who justified not using any anesthesia because he believed the operations weren’t “painful enough to justify the trouble.”

To be blunt, Dr. Sims’ experiments were unethical and deeply racist. They were built on the foundation that Blacks being second class citizens (if being considered human on the same level as whites at all) made them the perfect guinea pigs for his experiments. This progress was built on the most vulnerable of the population, since Black women didn’t enjoy the same protection under the law as white women. Historians and social justice activists maintain that these medically unethical experiments were possibly even done without the expressed consent of the female patients involved.

The removal of his statue in Central Park, and the relocation to his burial site in Brooklyn, is without a doubt a big win. Though Dr. Sims’ medical breakthrough saved lives in the 1850s, advancements in medicine should never come at the expense of breaking the Hippocratic Oath. Historically taken by physicians, it is known first and foremost by its English translation, “Do no harm.” What happened to the Black women that served as his test subjects in pursuit of his end goal is nothing less than abuse. It speaks heavily to the racial divide that existed at the time.

New York City Public Advocate Letitia James‘ statement on the relocation should be reiterated:

“While some may have thought Dr. J Marion Sims was a pioneer, we know that his work was highly unethical and deeply racist.”

NYC Public Design Commission voting to take Dr. Sims’ statue down is a way of letting Black women know that the city understands their violent and abusive history in America. They should not be made to suffer a tribute to a man that built his success off the back of those less fortunate than his station in life.  The commission’s decision to remove the statue came about eight months after a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, prompting Mayor Bill de Blasio to order a review of all “symbols of hate” in the city.

Public Advocate Letitia James has been the public eye lately for the staunch support in legalization of weed. Like gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon, James believes that the prosecution of minorities for the sale, possession, and consumption of marijuana is a means of racial profiling and persecution.

 

The removal of this statue from a public area shows the city’s willingness to understand the complicated and historical relationship that Blacks have had with those in authority.

 

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