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Doctor renames surgical tool named after doctor who experimented on slaves

Posted at 7:33 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 19:35:04-04

NEW YORK — When Dr. Kameelah Phillips, a Manhattan obstetrician and gynecologist, asks for “Lucy” in the operating room, she often gets a puzzled look in return, until she provides a backstory and lesson in medical history about who Lucy really was and the painful role she had in the creation of the tool.

Dr. James Marion Sims, often called the “father of modern gynocology," invented what’s commonly called the Sims instrument. It is still used today to treat and fix a vaginal fistula, which is a complication some women face as a result of childbirth.

"Lucy had an obstructed labor and he operated on Lucy without anesthesia in front of a group of doctors. The accounts are as horrific as you can imagine,” Dr. Phillips said about Dr. Sims.

The successes of Dr. Sims to the field of medicine were revered at one point, but then overshadowed by his own documented research and his use of enslaved women for experimental treatments, without their consent and without anesthesia. One of those women was Lucy, who was just 18 when she nearly died as a result of the painful operation she endured at Dr. Sims hands.

“In learning that story, it was my absolute decision that I was renaming that instrument while in my operating room because I wasn’t going to give honor to a man who operated on the backs and developed instruments on the backs of women who looked like me,” said Dr. Phillips.

Dr. Phillips posted on Instagramout that decision she made years ago when she began practicing medicine and she said she is hearing from more doctors nearly every day who say they too will change how they reference the medical instrument. They'll now call it "Lucy."