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The Father of Monstrosity: Dr. Sims’s Immoral and Unethical Revolution in Gynecology

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Dr. James Marion Sims was a nineteenth century surgeon who is credited for being the “Father of Gynecology” due to his success in correcting vesico-vaginal fistula (VVF), which is a tear in the vagina after childbirth that led to incontinence. The article “The Medical Ethics of the ‘Father of Gynecology’, Dr J Marion Sims” explains the ways in which he was able to experiment and attempt to find a way to successfully treat VVF in his patients. The article continues to explain the cruelty that several slave women had to endure in order for Dr. Sims to perfect his technique, bringing into question the morality of performing these experiments, especially given the time period. Although Dr. Sims revolutionized gynecology, his actions to experiment and gather information was morally and ethically wrong compared even to other surgeons of the time.

Dr. Sims seemed to have “cracked the code” when it came to creating a treatment for VVF, paving the way for future gynecological research and surgeries. Sims created custom instruments and perfected the use of a catheter on patients with VVF, which seemed to have been tried and failed before by other surgeons working on the same issue (“Treatment”, 247). He also took great care to ensure that patients healed properly in order to determine that he had performed the surgeries correctly and successfully (248). Sims seemed to have had good intentions and moral standing when it came to treating his patients with VVF, taking care to make sure his job was done safely, and working toward a cure for this horrible vaginal injury. What would make Dr. Sims’s methods and experimentation so controversial and unethical?

Dr. Sims experimented on several slave women by giving them “partial cures” that harmed them in the process, and no anesthesia was used due to the notion that black people were considered “insensible to pain” (Wailoo). During an experiment with a woman named Lucy, Dr. Sims attempted a method using a sponge and silk, but his method led to nearly killed her by means of blood poisoning (“Story”, 237-238). These women suffered for upwards of an hour fully conscious and aware of the pain before having their treatment deemed a failure. These women were slaves and had no choice in whether or not to participate in the experimentation. Slave owners gave the consent for their slaves to be handed over to Dr. Sims’s experiments, putting the lives of these slave women in his hands without their say in the matter.

According to Ojanuga’s article, using slave women for surgical purposes was not common practice among surgeons either. Other surgeons such as Ephraim McDowell and Dr. Crawford W Long used anesthesia on a white man and a white woman in surgery years before his first experiment in 1845, so access to anesthetics were not an issue for Sims (Ojanuga, 29-30)Other doctors performed surgery using anesthesia on consenting adults, while Sims operated on slave women who endured the whole operation without any sort of anesthesia. After becoming successful in treating VVF, several white women sought out Dr. Sims for his treatment, but “none of them, due to the pain, were able to endure

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