Dr. James Marion Sims, sometimes referred to as the “father of gynecology”  remains, however, one of the most controversial American gynecologists. His greatest medical achievement consisted in curing the vesico-vaginal fistula, which had been a common disease following the childbirth in the 19th century. Today his medical achievements are considered controversial and unethical, due to the fact that all of his experimental surgeries were conducted on the slave women: without anesthesia and without consent of the patients (Spettel & White, 2011). Since the middle of the twentieth century, there existed heated debates on whether Sims was a genius scientists, who significantly developed and improved gynecology, or a monster, who performed painful experiments on powerless women. Both opinions still have their supporters, however, one thing is to be recognized for sure: Sims’s experiments were highly unethical and had discriminational nature. This paper aims to give an objective evaluation of Dr. Sims’s medical trials and describe ways in which his experiments were unethical.

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Vesico-vaginal fistula, usually caused by obstructed labour has numerous symptoms, such as incontinence and continuous leak of urine. In the 19th century, women, suffering from this disorder often turned into social outcasts rejected by society. This caused depression and even suicides (Wall, 2006). Without any doubt, Dr J Marion, attempting to find a cure for Vesico-vaginal fistula had a noble goal, but methods he used were inhuman.

Marion himself conducted test surgeries on both his own slaves and those of the “volunteer” masters. Permission for operations were obtained from the masters. The enslaves participants of his trials were not asked if they would agree to be operated on, as they were considered unable to make any decisions regarding their own bodies or any other life-aspects (Baker, 2012)  . During his career, Sims experimented on seven enslaved women. Being sure of making a revolutionary discovery and a favor to the mankind, he invited numerous local doctors to witness his first surgery. Just like other experimental operations of Dr. Sims, this one was conducted without any anesthetic means, because Sims did not know or did not care about the pain-killing advances of those times. The patient had to suffer excruciating pain during the surgery and almost died due to the blood-poisoning. In spite of the fact that the operation failed, Dr. Sims continued his experiments that were just as cruel as the first one.

There are several aspects of Sims’s experiments that allow one admit their unethical nature. First, performing surgical operations on slaves without obtaining their informed consent is unacceptable and demands dispraise.  The enslaved women, suffering from Vesico-vaginal fistulas, may had no desire to be the subjects of surgical trials, thus, they were forced into having unwanted and, in many cases, unnecessary operation. Sims failure to use anesthesia during his invasive experiment, which was racist. He simply did not care that the black women were feeling pain; however, when later operating on white patients he had to use anesthetic means, since these patients could not endure the pain involved (Wanzo, 2009). Another argument witnessing against Sims is that using slaves in medical trials was unnecessary due to the substantial medical advances made by Southern physicians obtained in a completely ethical manner (Wanzo, 2009).

Dr. J Marion Sims had established a reputation of a great scientists and gynecologist by the time of his death. However, he made a successful career with a series of completely unethical and inhuman experiments with enslaved women. Sims failed to see his patients as independent individuals having their own will and right to decide what happens to their bodies. He abused the social phenomenon of slavery to perform cruel trials, which, by any standard, are not unacceptable and cannot be justified.