On December 20th, Michigan-based family medicine physician Dr. Susan Moore died due to complications from COVID-19. Less than two weeks before her death, Moore shared her experience with racism at the Indiana hospital where she was being treated, showing yet another example of anti-Blackness and medical apartheid.
In the words of Moore: “You have to show proof that you have something wrong with you, in order for you to get the medicine. I put forward, and I maintain: If I was white, I wouldn’t have to go through that. My doctor made me feel like I was a drug addict, and he knew I was a physician.”
This is how Black people get killed, their complaints of pain and discomfort are often either challenged or go unaddressed. Black people often are treated using protocols and equipment that have been optimized (most often by the exploitation of Black bodies) but calibrated to serve Whites.
Black patients are also often sent home without proper information or instruction on how to care for themselves. For those, like Moore, who are aware of these treatment dichotomies and demand that they be given proper care, they are met with passive-aggressive responses. In Moore’s case, her doctor, Dr. Eric Bannec, not only downplayed her pain but placed the onus on her to prove she was in pain. Within a few days, Moore was dead from COVID-19 related complications. Even in death, those who denied her adequate medical care suggest that they were bullied by her, simply because she demanded that they treat her with the respect and care that patients deserve.
This is clear evidence of state-sanctioned violence. Just as we witnessed George Floyd being refused his humanity by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, we also witnessed Moore’s last days as she was denied her humanity by the doctors and medical staff who had sworn a pledge to “do no harm.”
This is not new. It has been an experience Black people have suffered since our enslavement, demonstrated even further by the current pandemic of COVID-19, which has disproportionately ravaged Black communities across the country. Black people are nearly five times more likely to be hospitalized, and over three times more likely to die, from the coronavirus.
Nothing should be surprising about the disproportionate effect of this novel virus on Black people. Whether in a pandemic or in normal times the common denominator still remains, anti-Blackness. Regardless of the type of disease or medical condition, the root cause is always systemic racism. The devastating health disparities that exist in black communities are the spillover result of Police brutality.
Numerous research studies show direct correlations between police aggression and injuries, poor mental health, early death, stress, poor physical health, etc., in Black Americans. The bedrock of implicit bias and obtuse racism upon which white academic institutions are formed, continue to perpetuate these aggressions and feed them into the healthcare system. Medical schools depict medical and surgical explorations being performed on Black bodies, but only show treatment on White patients.
As a result of this imprinting during medical school, the average white patient file often contains over three times more information on the patient’s history than what is found in a Black patient’s file. This phenomenon is observed across all socioeconomic and education levels in white versus Black patients. This is what happens when Black people are seen as “Other”, subjects to be poked and prodded, rather than as humans. A casual scan of the average medical school textbook reinforces this egregious bias.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to attack the state-sanctioned medical apartheid that exists in this country, in the same manner in which racial apartheid in South Africa was attacked. Firstly, we must be prepared to loudly disrupt the system and demand open acknowledgment of the stark duality that exists in this country’s medical care system. Secondly, the teaching practices of the medical profession must undergo radical change. We must demand that Black patients are afforded the same level of care and consideration as their White counterparts. Finally, we must demand Black voices be at the center of every aspect of health care, starting with a call for the single-payer systems of Medicare For All.
It is a fact that many of today’s medical procedural advancements (for reproductive health, radiation, dermatology, and treatments for fungal, viral, and bacterial infections) were developed on Black bodies. Many of these ethically problematic and abusive medical and research practices still continue today, as evidenced by this pandemic. We must end this! All Black Lives Matter and it is our duty to fight to end these medical apartheid practices and usher in new, equitable, ethical, and just models, so Black lives can be saved.
Sadly, the deliberate neglect of Black people by a racist system has claimed the life of Dr. Moore. She has been made an honored ancestor, another name we will call upon to ground us in the Black liberation struggle. We can begin to honor her by transforming the medical system.
(Editor’s note: Indiana University Health President and Chief Executive Officer Dennis M. Murphy issued a press release in response to the issues raised by Dr. Moore, stating the hospital’s intent “to be more diverse, equitable and anti-discriminatory.” He also surmised that Dr. Moore’s critical care team “may have been intimidated by a knowledgeable patient who was using social media to voice her concerns and critique the care they were delivering.”)
Greg Akili is a core organizer with Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles. Dr. Emilee Bargoma is a microbiologist and member of Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles.