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U.S. medical care still discriminates by race

By Timothy Shaw, M.D.
The Capital Times (Madison, Wis.), Letters, April 17, 2014

In the summer of 1942, Lithuanian born Bernard Lown entered Johns Hopkins Medical School after being turned down by Harvard, being told that they had already filled their “quota” of his kind — Jews. Later Lown would become a famous cardiologist, developing the original defibrillator, and also receive the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

At Hopkins he encountered racial segregation for the first time. Black women would to be referred to by their first name, and white women by their last name. Additionally, black blood was segregated from white blood, with the letters C or W on the bottles. Lown rebelled and insisted on calling all women by their proper last names. In addition, when “white” blood ran low, he magically transformed C blood into W blood with his black crayon by making a reverse C and a line. The former C blood invigorated and saved many W patients of course, but Lown was expelled. The dean was furious, and during the dean’s expulsion tirade, Lown recalled wondering how it could be that young Americans were spilling their blood in Europe fighting a fascist philosophy that we were promoting here. Lown was later reinstated.

Recently at the Madison Central Library, I watched a showing of the movie “The Waiting Room.” My thoughts after this powerful movie included: We still have segregation based on race in medicine, and why don’t doctors, particularly our lead physicians, do something about this? Or are we just too content? Why not Medicare-for-ALL?

Dr. Timothy Shaw resides in Fitchburg.

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