Appendix 63 - Doctor Sims

by Michael Greger, MD and United Progressive Alumni

[ Medical School Resources | Appendices | Discussion ]

Inventor of the speculum, AMA president - we even got a big statue of him in Central Park.[745] The life of Sims was held up as a model for physicians to emulate and his story is told in a spirit of veneration and reverence. JAMA eulogized, "His memory the whole profession loves to honor, for by his genius and devotion to medical science he advanced it in its resources to relieve suffering as much, if not more, than any man who has lived within this century."[746]

Dr. Sims started his surgical career in Montgomery Alabama, surgically experimenting on three slaves - Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy. Unspeakable horrors filled these women's lives. When his family tried to force him to quit these experiments, he responded, "I am going on with this series of experiments to the end. It matters not what it costs." Anarcha alone (age 17) was said to have been subjected to 30 operations.

From his autobiography: "The first patient I operated on was Lucy.... That was the days before anesthetics, and the poor girl, on her knees, bore the operation with great heroism and bravery. Lucy's agony was extreme."[747]

According to an article from the American Journal Of Obstetrics And Gynecology:

The driving force was not the benefit of humanity or compassion for human beings, but rather that in surgery Sims saw a path towards glory. He took slaves and poor New York Irish immigrants and put them through 'unimaginable agonies' to advance his career.... The lack of anesthesia made pain and suffering a foregone conclusion.[748]

Sam, a slave with cancer of the jaw, refused to be operated on because, "it would hurt too much." From the Journal of the History of Medicine:

Determined not to be foiled in the attempt, Dr. Sims contrived an ingenious method of securing the patient. Sam was persuaded to sit in a barber's chair, to which some planks had been added at the top and bottom. He was quickly tied down by straps around thighs, knees, ankles, abdomen, thorax, shoulders, wrists, elbows and head. Sam, Dr. Sims relates, 'appeared to be very much alarmed.'[749]

Only after his experiments with slave women proved successful did Dr. Sims attempt the procedure on white women volunteers.[750] Sims evidently established the Women's Hospital in New York City, "to provide guinea pigs [destitute Irish immigrant women like Mary Smith, who also endured 30 operations] before he and the others could convincingly provide care to the wives of the wealthy."[751] He often found, however, according to an article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, that the wives could not, or more accurately, would not, withstand the pain and discomfort that the procedure entailed."[752] Sims was quoted as being convinced that black women, "endured pain as well as dogs or rabbits do...."[753]



[745] Fundamentals of Gynecology & Obstetrics Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven, 1992:173.

[746] Mendelsohn, RS. Male Practice Chicago: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1982:33.

[747] Gamble, VN. American Journal of Public Health 87(1997):1773-1778.

[748] Richardson, DA. American Journal Of Obstetrics And Gynecology 170(1994):1-6.

[749] Fisher, W. Journal of the History of Medicine 1968(January):36-49.

[750] Gamble, VN. "Legacy of Distrust." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 9(1993):35S-38S.

[751] Dreifus, C. Seizing Our Bodies New York:Vintage Books, 1977:30)

[752] Gamble, VN. "Legacy of Distrust." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 9(1993):35S-38S.

[753] Link, EP. "The Social Ideas of American Physicians." Academic Medicine 69(1994):25-26.



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