Virginia Commonwealth University “deeply regrets” taking a black man’s heart for transplant without consent

A Virginia university has apologized for stealing and disposing of black bodies and using a man’s heart for a transplant without his family’s consent.

Virginia Commonwealth University said it regrets digging up the remains of blacks and enslaved people in the mid-1800s and discarding them after dissections. The university system also apologized to the family of Bruce Tucker, a Black Virginia laborer whose heart was removed in 1968 after his condition was deemed too severe.

Virginia Commonwealth University apologized for experimenting with black bodies in the 19th century. (Photo: YouTube/The Virginia Commonwealth University)

“The VCU humbly recognizes and deeply regrets the historical injustice and systemic marginalization of individuals as they do not reflect the society that the VCU seeks to advance – a society where people of diverse backgrounds and experiences deserve dignity and respect worthy of their humanity,” the university said in a statement.

The move comes after the author of a book documenting Tucker’s inhumane actions wrote an op-ed urging the university to apologize to the family. It was the first transplant performed by the Medical College of Virginia.

In The Organ Thieves, Chip Jones wrote that medical school was under pressure to perform the surgery. Tucker was transported to medical school with a serious head injury. dr Richard Lower and Dr. David Hume, famous for the historical process, put Tucker’s heart in the chest of a white businessman. This man died about a week later.

Tucker’s family was not told about the transplant until the undertaker informed them that the man’s heart and kidney had been removed. Jones said the apology will not “bring Bruce Tucker back and will not ease the pain and trauma that his son and some of his family members are still feeling.”

The Virginia Commonwealth University Board of Visitors and the VCU Health System Board of Directors announced the approval of an apology on Sept. 18. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reached out to the man’s son but could not reach him for comment, reports.

“I am glad that the VCU and its leadership recognize this pain and real injustice for this black man and his family,” Jones said. “There is no way we can ethically or morally justify how he was treated and how his family was mistreated by never being told.”

The university system will also create a plaque honoring Tucker’s “important role in the early history of heart transplantation” and display it at the medical center. The school also sent a letter to Tucker’s family informing them of the apology and the memorial.

“VCU must face its institutional history; contribute to the healing process by centering the voices that have too often been silenced; and to create a body of knowledge that future generations can learn from and continue to use to bring about meaningful change,” the resolution reads.

The system said it also regrets “the grave injustice” to the lives of 54 bodies discovered beneath a VCU health building in 1994. Builders found a well full of 400 human bones. The remains reportedly belonged to 44 adults and four children. Some bones belonged to an infant, others to a newborn. Archaeologists said the skulls belonged mostly to people of African descent.

A report revealed that the medical college had staff dedicated to digging graves at the Shockoe Hill African burial sites. The students reportedly learned how to amputate limbs and saw some bodies have a skull cut in half to remove the brain. When the bodies no longer served any purpose, they were thrown into a well.

Some remains are still in the well because the VCU did not give archaeologists enough time to complete a full investigation, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Virginia Commonwealth University “deeply regrets” taking a black man’s heart for transplant without consent

James Brien

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