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The US medical system is still haunted by slavery

Medicine’s dark history helps explain why black mothers are dying at alarming rates.

Ranjani Chakraborty is a lead video producer on the Vox video team and the creator behind Vox’s history series, Missing Chapter.

As the high rates of maternal mortality in the US continue to concern researchers, a new ProPublica report digs into one factor in this alarming trend. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black mothers giving birth in the US die at three to four times the rate of white mothers. That’s one of the widest racial disparities in medicine today.

While many of the inequalities in medicine can be attributed to economic factors like access to good health care, studies have shown minority patients tend to receive a lower quality of care than non-minorities, even when they have the same types of health insurance and the same ability to pay for care.

So how do we better understand this divide? History is usually a good place to start. In this installment of Vox and ProPublica’s collaboration, we lay out some of the dark history of race and women’s medicine. We go back to the painful experimentation on slaves for medical science — particularly by one doctor named J. Marion Sims. Sims was known as the “father of modern gynecology,” and his statue stands in Central Park, across from the New York Academy of Medicine. The vestiges of abuse continue to haunt the medical system, and give context to current racial disparities.

You can find this video and all of Vox’s videos on YouTube. Subscribe for more pieces in the Vox-ProPublica collaboration. And you can sign up for ProPublica’s newsletter here.

Update: As P.R. Lockhart reported, on Tuesday, April 17, 2018, New York removed the statue of J. Marion Sims as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s review of city markers that could be deemed “symbols of hate.”