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Composite Bodies | Harriet A. Washington on Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Medical Consent

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April 21, 2021 | 5:00 p.m.

The Composite Bodies Series is a partnership between the Northeastern University Humanities Center and the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard. It is convened by Patricia Williams (University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities, Northeastern University) and  Caroline Light (Senior Lecture on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, Harvard University).

The right of US patients and research subjects to give or withhold consent is widely assumed to be protected by law, but for decades medical research has been conducted on trauma victims and others without their consent, or even their knowledge.

Harriet A. Washington’s research exposes the ways in which the law fails U.S. medical-research system and how other research subverts legal protections and regularly violates patient, civil, and human rights. She explains why people of color are often especially vulnerable. Her work illuminates the record of nonconsensual testing of dangerous and sometimes lethal treatments among civilians, revealing the untrustworthiness of our nation’s profit-based system of medical research.

About the Speakers

Harriet A. Washington is a prolific science writer, editor and ethicist who is the author of the seminal Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Experimentation from Colonial Times to the Present, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Oakland Award, and the American Library Association Black Caucus Nonfiction Award. She is the author of five other well-received books,  including A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind and Carte Blanche: The Erosion of Informed Consent in Medical Research. She has written widely for popular publications and has been published in refereed books and journals such as Nature, JAMAThe American Journal of Public HealthThe New England Journal of Medicine,  the Harvard Public Health ReviewIsis,  and The Journal of Law, Medicine, and Ethics. She has been Editor of the Harvard Journal of Minority Public Health, a guest Editor of the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics and served as  a reviewer for the Journal of the American Association of Bioethics and the Humanities.  

Patricia Williams is University Distinguished Professor of Law and Humanities at Northeastern University

Caroline Light is Senior Lecture on Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University

About the Series

In a moment where our collective health depends on technological innovation – including “contact tracing” through the collection and storage of cell phone data – visual, biometric, and other forms surveillance collect us as pinpoints of data. Composite Bodies takes up questions of technology, surveillance, embodiment, and power from an intersectional feminist lens. Through critical engagements with law, philosophy, art, history, bioethics, criminology, and advocacy, this series will address how the machine measurement and tracking of bodies is reconceptualizing notions of privacy while complicating the boundaries of the body as an integrated whole, reproducing and reinforcing biases based on race, class, gender, and other historically disabling taxonomies.

Additional information can be found here.

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