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"Carte Blanche": The Lethal Legacy Of Unethical Medical Research

Columbia Global Reports

On today's Midday, a conversation with the award-winning author and ethicist, Harriet A. Washingtonabout the human costs of unethical medical research.

In the current national debate about vaccine hesitancy among people in communities of color, people point to distrust of medical research that is premised on the experience in two famous cases:  one is Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman who died of cancer in the 1950s, and whose extraordinary cells were harvested for research by doctors at Johns Hopkins without her consent.  Those cells are still used for research today.  The second is the case of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which men who were infected with the disease were left untreated.  

The unethical and deadly behavior of researchers in the Tuskegee Study was revealed in 1972.  And for more than a decade, Johns Hopkins has honored the legacy of Henrietta Lacks, and used her story to study its implications for informed consent in medicine.   Harriet Washington's award-winning 2007 book, Medical Apartheid, documents the medical abuses that have been visited on people of color for centuries.

So, does that mean that research without the fully informed consent of participants a vestige of the past, and that current practice has what is necessary to safeguard against any future abuse?...

Credit Columbia Global Reports

Harriet Washington answers that questions with a resounding, “No.” 
In her latest book, Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Medical Consent (published by Columbia Global Reports), Washington states flatly that “We have frequently abandoned informed consent and today remain guilty of burgeoning medical experimentation without consent of any type.”  She goes on to say that “Informed consent, or even simple consent, have been withheld consistently in research with African Americans.”

Harriet Washington joins us on Zoom…


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