Medical Apartheid

The class action lawsuit against the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, reported in the New York Times today (see the link below), has been dragging though the courts for over a decade. Although the story is not well known to the general public, it contains all the basic elements of a classic case of medical apartheid on the order of the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment: poor, uninformed “black” victims being studied by medical researchers but never being offered treatment for known conditions.

In this case, which dates back to the 1990s, the Kennedy Krieger Institute decided to use poor “black” children as guinea pigs in a study to test exposure to lead dust. “Black” families with children that ranged from 12 months to 5 years old were lured into moving into lead-tainted housing by the offer of rent subsidies. The apartments they occupied had received some lead abatement but were not lead free. The purpose of the study was to measure the levels of lead in the blood of children to determine how well various lead abatement measures would work. The study went on for six years while the children continued to be exposed to dangerous lead levels, which eventually caused several of them to experience permanent neurological damage. More than a hundred children were exposed to lead dust and long-term health consequences through this project.

Taken out of context and viewed separately, this case might seem like an aberration. But the medical industry has a long history of experimenting on African Americans dating back to the slavery era.

Suit Over Lead Dust Names Kennedy Krieger Institute – NYTimes.com.

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2 thoughts on “Medical Apartheid

  1. One wonders whether the writer (J. Greene) for the “Loophole”(S8x13, 2007) episode of “Law & Order: SVU” used this KKI case as a springboard. An episode summary is available at http://www.tv.com/shows/law-order-special-victims-unit/loophole-959841/ . It’s one of my personal favorites for the writing and acting, as well as for its inclusion of its medical apartheid elements. Another reason I like it so much is because the DA goes after the company that manufactured the hazardous substance, and wins. 🙂

  2. The Law & Order franchise (they deserve their own cable channel) is good at pulling stories from the “headlines.” I have no doubt the writers took the KKI case and tweaked it for the episode. I don’t believe I saw it though. I’ll look for it on reruns.

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