In the natural course of events, humans fall sick and die. Patients hope for miraculous remedies to restore their health.
We all want our medicines to work for us in wondrous ways. But how are human subjects chosen for experiments? Who bears the burden of risk? What ethical brakes keep scientific enthusiasm from overwhelming vulnerable populations? Who goes first?
Today, the question of underrepresented minorities in medical experimentation is still volatile. Minorities, especially African-Americans in the U.S., tend to be simultaneously underrepresented in medical research and historically exploited in experimentation.
My new book, Secret Cures of Slaves: People, Plants, and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic, zeroes in on human experimentation on Caribbean slave plantations in the late 1700s. Were slaves on New World sugar plantations used as human guinea pigs in the same way African-Americans were in the American South centuries later?
History is littered with exploitative experiments in humans. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment is probably one of the most infamous. From 1932 to 1972, the U.S. Public Health Service offered 600 African-American men food, free medical care and burial insurance for participating in the study. About 400 of these poor Alabamans had syphilis. The government studied the natural progression of the disease until death, even though penicillin was an easy, cheap and safe cure.
This type of medical testing empirical study through controlled trials began in earnest in the late 1700s. Many poor souls were subjected to medical testing. In Europe and its American colonies, drug trials tended to over-select subjects from the poor and wards of the state, such as prisoners, hospital patients and orphans. Most experimental subjects came from the same groups used for dissection that is, persons with no next of kin to insist on burial rites or to pay for expensive cures.
I was surprised to learn that, in many instances, doctors did not as might be expected use slaves as guinea pigs. Slaves were valuable property of powerful masters. The masters will prevailed over a doctors advice.
A British physician in Jamaica reported he had developed a perfect cure for yaws, a horrid tropical infection of the skin, bones and joints bred of poverty and poor sanitation. The experimental treatment was slated to take three or four months. The masters, not caring to lose their Slaves labor for so long, denied the doctors request.
However, numerous slaves were exploited in medical experiments at this time. John Quier, a British doctor working in rural Jamaica, freely experimented with smallpox inoculation in a population of 850 slaves during the 1768 epidemic. Inoculation, a precursor to vaccine, involved inducing a light case of the disease in a healthy person in hopes of immunizing that person for life.
But Quier did not simply inoculate to prevent disease. We see from his reports that he used slaves to explore questions that doctors in Europe dared not. He wanted to know, for example, whether one could safely inoculate menstruating or pregnant women. He also wanted to know if it was safe to inoculate newborn infants or a person already suffering from dropsy, yaws or fever and the like.Quier was employed by slave owners and would have inoculated plantation slaves for smallpox, with or without his scientific experiments. In all instances, masters had the final word. There was no issue of slave consent, or, for that matter, often physician consent.
In his letters to colleagues in London, Quier reported that, to answer these questions, he sometimes inoculated repeatedly in the same person and at his own expense. Throughout his experiments, when pressed, Quier followed what he considered of interest to science and not necessarily what was best for the human being standing in front of him.
The history of human experimentation is not merely about subjects used and misused, but also about subjects excluded from testing and, as a consequence, from the potential benefits of a cure.
Today, medical researchers struggle to include women in clinical trials. Its impossible to say when women were defined out as proper subjects of human research. But women were regularly included in medical research in the 18th century.
In 1721, the iconic Newgate Prison trials in England tested the safety and efficacy of smallpox inoculation. Of the elected six condemned criminals, there were three women and three men, matched as closely as possible for age.
Women also featured in Quiers experiments, raising explosive questions about differences among women, many of which were about race.
For example, his London colleagues wondered whether his smallpox experiments done on Negro women were valid for English women. Some gentlemen in London were concerned that experiments done on slave women were not valid for women of fashion, and of delicate constitutions. Treatments appropriate for enslaved women, they warned, might well destroy ladies of delicate habits, educated in European luxury.
African, Amerindian and European knowledges mixed on Caribbean sugar plantations.
Europeans had little experience with the tropical disease they encountered in the Caribbean, but Africans did. One of my purposes in this book is to expand our knowledge of African contributions to science.
An extraordinary experiment in 1773 pitted purported slave cures against European treatments in Grenada, a small island south of Barbados. In something of a cure-off, a slaves remedy for yaws was tested against the standard European remedy. Under the masters careful eye, four slaves were treated by a European-trained surgeon, two by the slave doctor.
The surgeon employed a standard mercurial treatment, which, when taken over several years, tended to leave slaves health broken. Meanwhile, the slave set to work with methods learned in his own Country (presumably Africa). This consisted of sweating his patients powerfully twice a day in a cask with a small fire and by giving them a medicine made from two woods, known locally as Bois Royale and Bois fer.
The outcome? The slaves patients were cured within a fortnight; the surgeons patients were not. The plantation owner, a man of science, consequently put the man of African origins in charge of all yaws patients in his plantation hospital. In the process, the enslaved man who remained nameless and faceless throughout was elevated in status to a Negro Dr.
The Atlantic world represents a step in globalization, the potential enrichment of the human experience when worlds collide. But the extinction of peoples, such as the Amerindians in the Greater Antilles, coupled with the fear and secrecy bred in the enslavement of Africans, meant that knowledge did not circulate freely. Amerindians and enslaved Africans strategically held many secrets. Though hidden or suppressed, much of this knowledge can still be found today in local Caribbean remedies.
Bertrand Bajon, a French physician working in Cayenne, envied the numerous plant cures known to Indians and Negroes. Bajon pleaded that for the good of humanity slaves be obliged to communicate the plants he [or she] used and the manner in which they are employed. In return, Bajon recommended the slave be offered freedom but not until a great number of experiments confirmed the cures virtue.
We must remember that knowledge created in this period did not respond to science for its own sake, but was fired in the colonial crucible of conquest, slavery and violence.
Londa Schiebinger, Professor of History of Science, Stanford University
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Sign up for the Quartz Africa Weekly Brief the most important and interesting news from across the continent, in your inbox.
Read more here:
- The best beach islands are in the Caribbean - Cleveland Jewish News - August 25th, 2017
- Caribbean jerk chicken and a savory side - Auburn Journal - August 25th, 2017
- Walk in the Footsteps of Alexander Hamilton on This Tiny Caribbean Island - Smithsonian - August 25th, 2017
- A Taste Of The Caribbean In Philadelphia - CBS Philly - August 20th, 2017
- Harvey Could Rebound in the Western Caribbean; Two Other Areas Are Being Monitored For Tropical Development - Wunderground.com (blog) - August 20th, 2017
- Tropical cyclone expected Thursday from wave nearing Caribbean - Miami Herald - August 20th, 2017
- Caribbean Premier League 2017: 5 players who performed well during Week Two - Yahoo Cricket - August 20th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: August 20, 2017 - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 20th, 2017
- Tropical Storm Harvey forms east of the Caribbean, forecasters say - Sun Sentinel - August 18th, 2017
- Hero Caribbean Premier League brings top-tier cricket to Lauderhill - Sun Sentinel - August 18th, 2017
- Bonnie Tyler to sing 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' on Royal Caribbean cruise during total solar eclipse - Fox News - August 18th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean CEO: College taught me the right way to protest - CNBC - August 18th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean ramping up China efforts with new super-ship - Asia Times - August 18th, 2017
- Triple tropical threat looms in the Atlantic, Caribbean - AccuWeather.com - August 16th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean reveals name of newest cruise ship for China and celebrates steel cutting ceremony - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 16th, 2017
- 'Muslim Origins in the Caribbean' lectures to be held at university - Virgin Islands Daily News - August 16th, 2017
- Has rail a future in the Caribbean? - Virgin Islands Daily News - August 16th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean will feature Bonnie Tyler singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart" on Total Eclipse cruise - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 16th, 2017
- Spotted: Deluxe Beverage and Ultimate Dining Package combo - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 16th, 2017
- Deloitte Selects Miami Based Unified Technologies for Caribbean Cyber Security Alliance - IoT Evolution World (blog) - August 16th, 2017
- Is the business class taking over Caribbean politics? - Antigua Observer - August 14th, 2017
- Conversations about women's sexuality in carnival culture - Caribbean Life - August 14th, 2017
- Player feedback results in the return of PokerStars Caribbean Adventure - World Casino Directory - August 14th, 2017
- The District becomes Caribbean island paradise - Quad-Cities Online - August 13th, 2017
- Caribbean Filmmakers Stepping Up* - Trinidad & Tobago Express - August 13th, 2017
- AP PHOTOS: Editor selections from Latin America, Caribbean - New Jersey Herald - August 13th, 2017
- Aruba Hosts Caribbean's Largest Vow Renewal - Caribbean360.com (subscription) - August 13th, 2017
- Report shows amount Caribbean states paid firms to lobby the US - WIC News - August 13th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean offering instant savings and Oasis Class bonuses for weekend Sail Away Sale - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 13th, 2017
- Feasting Through the Western Caribbean on Carnival's Vista - The Daily Meal - August 10th, 2017
- Critically endangered staghorn corals are benefiting from coral gardening in the Caribbean - Mongabay.com - August 10th, 2017
- Seafood festival with Caribbean accent comes to town - Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - August 9th, 2017
- Air France adds Caribbean route from Atlanta - USA TODAY - August 9th, 2017
- Aruba Hosts Caribbean's Largest Vow Renewal - PR Newswire (press release) - August 9th, 2017
- Tropical systems to unleash torrential downpours in northern Caribbean - AccuWeather.com - August 9th, 2017
- Sak Pase! Rihanna's Thick New Bod Shuts Down Caribbean Carnival - Wetpaint - August 9th, 2017
- Orange Hosts Grand Caribbean Festival & Parade - TAPinto.net - August 9th, 2017
- Top things to do on a sea day on a Royal Caribbean cruise - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 9th, 2017
- State worker faked injuries, went kayaking in Caribbean, IG says ... - Albany Times Union - August 8th, 2017
- Liddick: Look to the Caribbean to see America's future (column) - Summit Daily News - August 8th, 2017
- Tropical Storm Franklin forms in western Caribbean, hurricane watches posted for Mexico - Washington Post - August 8th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean plans beach enhancements at private destination of Labadee - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 8th, 2017
- UPDATE: 2 potential systems brewing in Caribbean, Atlantic - MyPalmBeachPost (blog) - August 8th, 2017
- International fugitive who bilked $130K out of elderly people arrested in SC - The State - August 6th, 2017
- "Talking the Tropics With Mike": Tropical disturbance in Caribbean - Aug. 6th - ActionNewsJax.com - August 6th, 2017
- Puerto Rican island is a Caribbean paradise without the frills [column] - LancasterOnline - August 6th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean Post Round-Up: August 6, 2017 - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 6th, 2017
- COO Goldstein Sells Over $14000000 in Royal Caribbean Stock - Cruise Law News - August 6th, 2017
- Jeremy Meeks and Chloe Green Bring Their PDA to the Caribbean on Barbados Vacation - Entertainment Tonight - August 6th, 2017
- UPDATE: 2 potential systems brewing in Caribbean, Atlantic - Palm Beach Post (blog) - August 6th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean's Majesty of the Seas Adding Havana, Cuba As Port of Call In 2019 - SpaceCoastDaily.com - August 6th, 2017
- Spirits high despite rain at Toronto Caribbean Carnival Grande Parade - Toronto Star - August 6th, 2017
- "Talking the Tropics With Mike": Caribbean wave trying to organize ... - ActionNewsJax.com - August 6th, 2017
- Caribbean, East Atlantic may spawn tropical threats in coming days - AccuWeather.com - August 5th, 2017
- 2017 Caribbean Hoopfest Slated for August 16-21 in Montego Bay, Jamaica - SLAM Online - August 5th, 2017
- UN agencies say Caribbean fails to fully meet recommended standards for breastfeeding - Jamaica Observer - August 5th, 2017
- South Atlanta Caribbean Cultural Festival planned for Aug. 19 - News-Daily.com - August 5th, 2017
- Royal Caribbean tests Diamond drink redemption change - Royal Caribbean Blog (blog) - August 5th, 2017
- Caribbean, East Atlantic may spawn tropical threats in coming days - Fox News - August 4th, 2017
- Airbnb will let you rent your own off-the-grid Caribbean island - Inhabitat - August 4th, 2017
- The time for Caribbean flair is now - ESPN - August 4th, 2017
- Sunday Supper: Caribbean Salmon - Minneapolis Star Tribune - August 4th, 2017
- Would You Buy Donald Trump's $17 Million Caribbean Mansion? - Cosmopolitan.com - August 3rd, 2017
- Should it matter who pays for Caribbean development? - Virgin Islands Daily News - August 3rd, 2017
- Royal Caribbean: Just Say You Were Wrong, OK? - Barron's - August 3rd, 2017
- Donald Trump's Massive Caribbean Estate Isn't Selling, So He Just Dropped the Price by $11 Million (PICS) - Bravo (blog) - August 3rd, 2017
- Indie Spotlight: 'Scraps' Animates The Mischief Of A Caribbean Cat - Tubefilter - August 3rd, 2017
- Who Feeds the Farmer? Caribbean, Mexican, Southwest on Rebos' menu in Sioux City - Midwest Producer - August 3rd, 2017
- Hot Pot Caribbean Cuisine in Chandler Is the Neighborhood Joint You Wish You Had - Phoenix New Times - August 3rd, 2017
- President Trump's Caribbean Estate Just Got $11 Million Cheaper - Money Magazine - August 2nd, 2017
- Caribbean Queens again - Trinidad & Tobago Express - August 2nd, 2017
- Caribbean voice: How calypso went from plantation to politics - BBC ... - BBC News - August 2nd, 2017
- Flight deal of the week: UK to the Caribbean for 298 - The Independent - August 2nd, 2017
- ARIN Strengthens Commitment to the Caribbean - PR Newswire (press release) - August 2nd, 2017
- Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) Q2 2017 Results - Earnings Call Transcript - Seeking Alpha - August 1st, 2017
- Climate Adaptation Finance Update: Caribbean Resilience Receives Boost - IISD Reporting Services - August 1st, 2017
- Caribbean Crackdowns: A Really Bad Week For Democracy, Free Enterprise - WLRN - August 1st, 2017
- The Best Caribbean Islands for Foodies - Tasting Table - August 1st, 2017
- Royal Caribbean and Scana rise as Under Armour stumbles - Fox Business - August 1st, 2017
- Climate Change Brings Migration from the Dry Corridor to Nicaragua's Caribbean Coast - Inter Press Service - August 1st, 2017