New York City Just Removed a Statue of Surgeon J. Marion Sims From Central Park. Here’s Why

Written by on April 28, 2018 in Films & TV, Internet, Media & Arts with 0 Comments

A statue of J. Marion Sims, who was a prominent gynecologist, is loaded onto a New York City Department of Parks & Recreation truck after being taken down from its pedestal bordering Central Park on East 103rd Street on April 17, 2018.
2018 Getty Images

By Olivia B. Waxman | TIME

A statue of the surgeon J. Marion Sims was removed from its pedestal bordering New York City’s Central Park on Tuesday, after calls for its removal peaked in the summer of 2017. The city’s Public Design Commission voted Monday to remove the Sims statue, and on Tuesday the statue was taken down; the city plans to move it to the cemetery where Sims is buried.

In the last year or so, during a period of dialogue about what it means to continue to maintain monuments to figures whose lives no longer seem praiseworthy, Confederate monuments have been removed from many cities, and universities have begun to come to grips with their own and their benefactors’ connections to slavery. And, though the statue of Sims may have little to do with the Civil War on its face, its removal was nonetheless the latest part of that story.

With Sims, the controversy is not about the merits of his medical achievements, but how he accomplished them. Though Sims founded New York’s first women’s hospital and innovated new surgical techniques, his success came at the cost of unethical medical treatment of enslaved women in the antebellum era.

In the 1840s, to master the technique that earned him the title of “father of modern gynecology” — a cure for vesicovaginal fistula, which closed dangerous openings between the bladder and vagina, often caused by giving birth — he practiced on enslaved women whom he purchased. During the incredibly painful process, they were deprived of anesthesia, according to a recent NPR interview with Vanessa Northington Gamble, a physician and medical historian at George Washington University. Sometimes other physicians were invited to watch him in action.

His experiments were part of a longer history of doctors experimenting on African Americans and Native Americans to test out treatments that could benefit white people, Harriet A. Washington, the author of Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, told TIME recently.

Even after slavery was abolished, that didn’t mean African Americans received the same treatment as white patients. Washington says there was a widespread belief that such experiments on patients from marginalized communities could be justified as payback of sorts, since those individuals often couldn’t afford to pay full-price for all of their medical care.


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