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Black Lives, White Coats: Exploring Anti-Blackness in Healthcare

By: Olaitan Olanrewaju

On July 9th, 2023, Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor Sr. arrived at Southern Regional Medical Center in Atlanta, hoping to deliver their first child together. The excitement and anticipation surrounding the birth of Jessica Ross and Treveon Isaiah Taylor Sr.'s first child quickly turned to unimaginable horror as a series of careless medical decisions unfolded on that fateful day.

A lawsuit filed against Dr. Tracey St. Julian, the presiding OBGYN, and Southern Regional Medical Center details the sequence of events. Complications arose during delivery, leading to the baby becoming stuck. Allegedly, instead of promptly responding to the situation and seeking necessary interventions, Dr. St. Julian resorted to using excessive force, which ultimately resulted in the decapitation of Jessica Ross’ baby. The lawsuit also alleges that the three-hour delay in performing a cesarean section further exacerbated the situation, leading to the loss of the baby's heartbeat. Ross and Taylor further claim that Southern Regional Staff further deceived them by propping the head of their child up in an attempt to make it appear as if their child’s head was still attached to its body.

The alleged attempts to cover up the incident by Southern Regional staff underscore a culture of secrecy in medicine; a culture that highlights the dire need for accountability within the medical system. Through such efforts to maintain secrecy, the Southern Regional staff and the broader medical community speak what is often left unspoken: Black mothers and infants are disposable. This painful truth renders the agony suffered by Ross and her child inconsequential to Dr. Tracey St. Julian and Southern Regional Medical Center in Atlanta—a haunting reflection of how the pernicious force of structural racism has dehumanized Ross and her child to a point where their lives are deemed utterly devoid of value.

This tragic incident, however, only scratches the surface of a more profound issue: the stark reality of medical racism and the disproportionately high rates of Black infant and maternal mortality. Although Jessica Ross’ case is undoubtedly an extreme occurrence, it reflects a broader problem of systemic disparities and racial biases within the healthcare system. Black mothers and infants are at a disproportionately higher risk of experiencing complications compared to their white counterparts due to factors such as limited access to quality healthcare, implicit biases, and socioeconomic inequalities. In 2020, the CDC reported that for every 1,000 infants born to Black mothers, 10.38 would die, meaning that Black infants are over two times more likely to die than white infants. These disparities simply cannot be ignored.

Jessica Ross’ lawsuit also serves as a rallying cry for systemic change. It emphasizes the urgency of addressing the racial disparities in healthcare outcomes and the pressing need for accountability when medical negligence leads to catastrophic outcomes. The broader issue of Black maternal and infant mortality demands a multifaceted approach that includes dismantling systemic barriers, increasing access to quality healthcare, and rectifying implicit biases within the medical field.

As prevalent as medical racism is, Ayada Leads continues to believe that a future without the suffering of Black mothers and children is possible. Ayada Leads is fighting these issues with our coalition UnRestrict MN, which works to achieve reproductive justice in Minnesota. During the 2023 legislative session, UnRestrict MN successfully passed The Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act and The Reproductive Freedom Defense Act.

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