The University of Utah: The Ethics of Medicine


Three upcoming virtual presentations by Harriet A. Washington:

Thursday October 7:

Friday October 8:

The University of Utah will host Harriet A. Washington to address the campus community virtually at three events October 7-8, 2021. Washington is a science writer, editor, and prolific ethicist who is the author of the seminal Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present and five other well-received books. Washington is a bioethics researcher at Harvard Medical School and a member of the New York Academy of Medicine.

Washington to U Virtual Tour is organized and sponsored by the U’s Center for Health Ethics, Arts, and Humanities (CHEEtAH), Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library, J. Willard Marriott Library, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion ( EDI), Tanner Humanities Center, and the Office of Health EDI School of Medicine.

You write on a wide range of important topics. What are the things that you have highlighted in your research and writing?

What consumed me for a long time was the morality of medicine, the ethics of medicine. In particular, how does this play out in the medical perception and treatment of marginalized people, including African Americans, but also other marginalized people.

I have also always been fascinated by toxicity and poisoning. I ran the poison control center a long time ago in a different life, and wrote about it as well. I wrote a book on environmental racism and the cognitive effects that I think tend to be underestimated. There is not enough understanding and discussion of how our intense exposure to toxins as people of color in particular, particularly Native Americans and African Americans, affects our cognition, our way of thinking and our ways. different behaviors.

What initially attracted you to this job?

A lot of things got me there, but I would say that Albert Schweitzer is someone who fascinated me from the age of eight. I found everything I could read about him. He started out as a philosopher and didn’t decide to become a doctor until almost 30, which was really unusual for those times. And he always had the idea of ​​practicing among the underprivileged of the global south. Very early on, when I was young, 8, 9, 10 years old, I saw him as a disinterested martyr of medical missions. And in a way it still is, but as I got older in reading, the same works revealed layers of things to me that I hadn’t seen at first.

What is “medical apartheid”?

Apartheid was the official policy in South Africa of seeing the two races as separate entities in every sphere of life. And that’s exactly what happened in the American medical system: Blacks and whites are seen as very different entities and were treated extremely differently and continued to be treated extremely differently. Over the centuries this has been done, resulting in the training of doctors and scientists to treat African Americans differently, although this is not always openly acknowledged and not always recognized. So apartheid, I think, is a really good way to sum it up. Understanding that this system exists, that we don’t have one health care system with the same goals for everyone, is essential to solving problems and ensuring that everyone has equitable access to health care.

Why are these topics important to everyone, not just those in the medical field?

Partly because medicine takes over everything and partly because so many entities affect medicine. Many of the flaws in medicine that I most fiercely dispute have been created by law. Attitudes have persisted for centuries, but at some point someone enacted a law that has now cemented it in medical practice. It is therefore important that lawyers understand this story. It’s important for politicians, it’s important for social work, it’s important for historians, more than anything.

I find it hard to think of an area of ​​American life in which knowing history wouldn’t be important. I think everyone should know this, partly because everyone should know the truth and partly because it impinges on the opinions and policies of so many people.

Learn more about Washington and the three occasions to see it here.


This press release was produced by the University of Utah. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.

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