This month's feature article:

Surgical Experimentation by the ‘Father of Gynaecology’ on African American Slaves

In the last three years the reputation of the pioneering gynaecologist J Marion Sims has been questioned by a scandal over experimental surgery on African American slave women. Sims was attempting to find a surgical cure for vesico-vaginal fistulae - an obstetric injury resulting from bladder damage after obstructed labour. His statue was removed from Central Park, New York in 2018 in deference to the public outcry regarding his racist behaviour.

A debate has raged over failures of consent for up to 30 procedures on a single patient which were performed without anaesthesia on vulnerable young slave-women. However, this may be an example of 'presentism' whereby the' beliefs, attitudes and practices of the 21st century is anachronistically projected retrograde to the early 19th century'.

Sims developed a very successful surgical practice in Montgomery Alabama over 13 years from 1840.

Vesico-Vaginal Fistulas

Sim's interest in vesico-vaginal fistulae was aroused by the vesico-vaginal and recto-vaginal fistulae sustained by Anarcha Westcott whom he delivered himself with forceps. He was further encouraged by his experience with a woman 'of keen sensibilities so afflicted and excluded from all social enjoyment' who 'pined away and died on ascertaining that she was hopelessly incurable'. It was not uncommon for women to suicide because of the lack of any prospect of cure.


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