James Sims Is Celebrated In America As A Hero Of Science For Gynecological Experiments On Black Slave Women And Children Without Anesthesia


James Marion Sims developed pioneering tools and surgical techniques related to women’s reproductive health by operating on black female slaves without anesthesia. He performed many gynecological experiments.

In his own words, “There was never a time that I could not, at any day, have had a subject for operation.”

He first operated on an 18-year-old slave. She was completely naked, perched on her knees, bent forward on her elbows in an hour-long surgery while screaming and crying out in pain (agony was extreme).

He once performed 30 operations on one 17-year-old slave woman, in like manner.

With full support by the community, he moved on to experimenting with surgery on slave children. He would operate on children using a shoemaker’s tool to pry their bones apart and loosen their skulls. These experiments had a 100% fatality rate.

Sims later moved to New York to found a Woman’s Hospital, where he performed fistula surgery on white women without anesthesia. Sims said that he never used anesthesia for fistula surgery “because they are not painful enough to justify the trouble and risk attending their administration”.

J. Marion Sims is celebrated as a hero of science.

Sims fame and wealth are evident in his tributes:

  • Statue in New York’s Central Park
  • Statue in Columbia, South Carolina
  • Statue in Alabama State Capitol, Montgomery
  • Member of the Historical Society of New York
  • Permanent Member of the New York State Medical Society
  • Painting entitled ‘Medical Giants of Alabama’
  • Historical marker where he was born
  • Historical marker at his home
  • J. Marion Sims Foundation in Lancaster, South Carolina
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8 comments

  1. What horrified comment can I make that I haven’t already?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The following article provides an alternative perspective on the matter:

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2563360/

    Particularly noteworthy is that Dr. Sims himself (purportedly) declared that he performed no surgery without the patient’s explicit consent:

    For this purpose [therapeutic surgical experimentation] I was fortunate in having three young healthy colored girls given to me by their owners in Alabama, I agreeing to perform no operation without the full consent of the patients, and never to perform any that would, in my judgment, jeopard life, or produce greater mischief on the injured organs—the owners agreeing to let me keep them (at my own expense) till I was thoroughly convinced whether the affection could be cured or not.

    I submit that judging prior era medical practices with a 21st-century ethical lens may lead to erroneous conclusions about the practitioner’s motives. Because it’s become a game of “heads I win, tails you lose”. Had the doctor used anesthesia, he would now be accused of experimenting on his patients with unproven (at the time) drugs.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You Stated — “Particularly noteworthy is that Dr. Sims himself (purportedly) declared that he performed no surgery without the patient’s explicit consent:”

      My Response — You see slavery as a possible consensual situation, where I see experimenting with surgery on slave children as a human rights crime. He operated on children using a shoemaker’s tool to pry their bones apart and loosen their skulls without anesthesia. These experiments had a 100% fatality rate. Slavery to me indicates an absence of consent, forced imprisonment, forced labor, torture, and forced experimentation.

      We will have to agree to disagree on this topic but I understand your perspective.

      You Stated — “I submit that judging prior era medical practices with a 21st-century ethical lens may lead to erroneous conclusions about the practitioner’s motives.”

      My Response — I disagree. We can easily view each case on it’s own merit. I was just positing about this one doctor performing experimental operations on slave children that he wouldn’t perform on free white children.

      Again we will have to agree to disagree on this one.

      You Stated — “Because it’s become a game of “heads I win, tails you lose”.”

      My Response — I don’t see it as a game, I was just responding to data. I’m in a position where I can share data with others that they may normally not have been exposed to. I think the sharing of information helps us to have a better picture of our history and how we got here. Educating people for me is not a game but rather a possible obligation, given the advantages afforded to me.

      Just curious: If new experiments on children are needed now, do you think that we should run those medical experiments only on young black children? Or do you think they should be run on all children regardless of color?

      Keep in mind that he (and his community) had the same two options.

      Like

    • The article you linked was interesting but seemed a bit biased. It didn’t attempt to ask hard questions about his choice of test patients given the larger pool of white children available.

      The post also seemed to dodge ethical questions about the obvious position that slaves were in when it came to “consent”. He didn’t seem to have any thoughts about the individual rights of the slaves.

      I also believe the article intentionally skips context to bolster its position. How else would you explain why we are left wondering how uneducated children who most likely couldn’t speak English well, would be able to consent to a medical procedure that they were not well versed in.

      He seems a bit dishonest or intentionally ignorant of the slaves predicament.

      Like

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