Bioethics News

Nature Eds: Removing Statues of Historical Figures Risks Whitewashing History

September 6, 2017

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The statues of explorer Christopher Columbus and gynaecologist J. Marion Sims stand at nearly opposite corners of New York City’s Central Park, but for how much longer? Both monuments have been dragged into a nationwide debate about memor­ials to historical figures who have questionable records on human rights. The arguments are long-standing, but were thrown onto the world’s front pages last month when protests against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, produced racially charged violence.

Last week, the Central Park Sims statue — one of many that stand in numerous US cities — was vandalized. The word ‘racist’ was spray-painted alongside his list of achievements, which include life-saving techniques he developed to help women recover from traumatic births. Yet many protest about the lionization of this ‘father of modern gynaecology’ because he performed his experiments on female slaves.

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Image: By Infrogmation of New Orleans – Infrogmation of New Orleans, 19 May, 2017.Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.