Medical Malpractice

While Medical Malpractice May Be Popping Up In The News Lately, It Is Certainly Not A New Issue

It's not new news.


The abuse of power by doctors and medical institutions has a long and storied history. The work of J. Marion Sims and Henry Cotton are representative of the systematic violence visited upon marginalized populations in pursuit of medical knowledge. They were placed in positions of undisputed power over their subjects, and subsequently proceeded with actions otherwise deemed unconscionable, leadership was absent or actively complicit in enabling their activities, their subjects were largely dehumanized by nature of their mental or physical states, and the sheer volume of persons they interacted with heightened the risk of deindividuation. Yet, they both believed they were serving the greater good.

J. Marion Sims was a physician in the American South whose practice was inextricable from the systematic violence of slavery. While he is credited for the development of a surgical procedure to treat vesicovaginal fistulas, he practiced and perfected his technique on the bodies of enslaved black women purchased for this express purpose.

There are few incidents in history that are as emblematic of large-scale dehumanization as American slavery. The slaves were seen as little more than objects. This perception was reinforced through practices such as slave markets, branding, and the three-fifths compromise, which legally deemed them less than human. The dehumanization of these bodies is evidenced by the fact that he denied them any form of anesthesia, despite it being available at that time — a practice with chilling echoes in today's medical practice, where black people are often given less pain medicine than their white counterparts.

More locally, there is the case of what is now Trenton Psychiatric Hospital. At the dawn of the twentieth century, Dr. Henry Cotton became the director of the institution. While he started out by banning restraints and introducing occupational therapies, he was obsessed with the idea that mental illness was rooted in pathological infections. Cotton then began a series of brutal extraction experiments, removing teeth and internal organs from patients entrusted to his care.

He rarely obtained consent from either the patients or their families, often proceeding with his surgeries despite patients pleading with him not to. The persons left in these asylum facilities were easy to deindividuate, as new ones kept coming in with similar diagnosis and physical attributes. After performing the sheer volume of surgical removals he did, it is also likely that Cotton lost the ability to differentiate between different victims.

In terms of control over their subjects, Sims and Cotton were abetted by different institutional supports. In the case of Sims, there is little dispute that his subjects' identity as slaves gave him a great deal of socially-sanctioned control over their bodies. In fact, the practice of using slaves for anatomical research was entrenched in the medical practice of the time. Sims' actions were both condoned and widely practiced, with academic institutions further rewarding such violence by publishing the resultant papers.

In the case of Cotton, his patients were susceptible to the prevailing social attitudes of the time, where persons institutionalized in insane asylums were seen as helpless and heavily infantilized. Directors, nurses, and wardens were given patrician levels of control over the day-to-day existences of their wards. Though he abolished physical restraints, this level of control made it possible for him to force surgical procedures on them with little outside intervention. He was further supported at an institutional level. His mentor, Adolf Meyer, intentionally suppressed reports that detailed the horrors at work in Trenton, allowing Cotton to continue unfettered for years.

In conclusion, the use and abuse of underserved patients is not a recent intrusion into America's medical history. It is up to us as informed individuals to make sure our healthcare providers are held accountable for their practices.

Next week, I'll be looking at two more recent cases: opioid over-prescription and the rise of anti-vaccination ideologies.

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.

Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black-and-white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255

Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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Your Health Journey Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint

Perfection takes time.


When you first start to do something, you have all of the motivation in the world to accomplish that goal set out in front of you, especially when it comes to being healthier. The problem is as you continue through this journey and food and laziness kick in, motivation slips. It's human, and it happens to everyone no matter how physically strong they are.

Trying to be healthier doesn't always mean losing weight. It can be so your knees don't ache as much, so you don't feel as out of breath climbing stairs, or any goal you have set for yourself. Being healthier is personal and different from person to person.

I will be the first to admit that there are plenty of changes I would love to make about myself. From my weight to my body type and many other things about myself inside and out. I am by no means the most confident person about how I look, but I have worked hard for the past year to be an overall healthier person.

Becoming healthier isn't about looking thinner or fitting into a specific size of clothes. It is about taking care of yourself from eating better to working out more. There comes a feeling of confidence in what your body can do if you put a little love in it.

Perfection takes time, and I know firsthand how frustrating trying to be healthier can be.

Pizza tastes so much better than salad. It is so easy to fall into a rhythm of something that seems never to change whether that is your weight or your mile time. Sadly, you can't build a city, or become healthier overnight.

We see people who are thinner, curvier, smarter, faster, and so much more than us. We all waste time comparing ourselves to people around us and on our timelines, but some of our biggest strengths are our individuality and the gift of getting back up after falling down.

All I can say is, please don't give up on your goal of being healthier because this is solely for you. We can have a great support system in the world and have everyone in our corner, but that isn't enough.

You need yourself. You need to know that if you don't entirely put yourself in this journey, then you won't fully succeed. Your commitment to bettering yourself can keep you going even if you want to give up.

Your motivation may not be at its peak level right now, and you may have every cell in your body screaming at you to quit. Don't do it. Prove to yourself that you can keep going no matter what. Not giving up will be worth it. The results and taking the hard way will make you a stronger person inside and out.

You can do this. You can do anything you want to accomplish if you just believe in yourself. You need to understand that becoming healthier takes endurance. There will be periods where you slow down and may not be going at your fastest pace. The difference is that you are not giving up and you are still trying and moving.

Don't treat becoming healthier as a sprint: short term and quick. That mentality will only leave you feeling deflated and defeated. It is a life-long marathon of pacing yourself and pushing yourself further than ever before.

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