The Washington Post had an excellent review in its Sept. 26 “Health and Science” section. Though The Organ Thieves “was written before the disparities of covid-19 and George Floyd’s death,” Erin Blakemore writes, “the abuses it records are decades old.” She also said that “the gruesome disregard for Black lives it documents makes it an urgently modern warning.”
Click here for my recent essay in the History News Network, an online publication of The George Washington University’s Columbian College of Arts & Science.
Finally, here's an insightful letter to the editor in the October 10 Richmond Times-Dispatch, “VCU should honor Tucker for role in medical history.” Reader Robert Morrison of Midlothian, Virginia urges the university to embrace Bruce Tucker in its ongoing efforts to apologize for past wrongs and to correct mistakes in its official narrative.
In their recent op-ed, University of Richmond School of Arts & Sciences Dean Patrice D. Rankine and anthropology professor Rania Kassab Sweis speak of 'universal sacrifice,' the need for yet unproven, sometimes harmful clinical medical trials. Participants 'have often come from Black and/or underserved communities, and their bodies have been used in the name of science, sometimes without their full and informed consent,' say the authors.
Lack of informed consent happened at now-VCU Medical Center, according to Chip Jones in his recently published book 'The Organ Thieves: The Shocking Story of the First Heart Transplant in America's Segregated South.' For the transplant, neither Black 'donor' Bruce Tucker nor his family gave consent. In his well-researched history, Jones’ page-turner chronicles the wrongful death and negligence suit against then-Medical College of Virginia (MCV), lost in large part on a controversial change of heart in a crucial judicial ruling.
Jones also explores MCV’s complicity in earlier 20th-century grave robbing, mostly of Black bodies, for cadavers for medical research, and of a 1990s hasty decision to stop archaeological research and cover up an old cadaver 'bone pit.' Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has turned the page on many of its former practices that suggested Black lives didn't matter, and a VCU-formed descendant community group has begun advocating for studying and memorializing of exploited people, 'to restore and bring them the dignity they deserve,' writes Jones. But 'to date, no one has reached out to Bruce Tucker’s descendants.'
Moving forward in racial reconciliation, trust is crucial. With Virginia’s long history of race-based privilege and discrimination, building trust requires no stone left unturned in honestly facing and publicly acknowledging regretted history. VCU should reach out to the Tuckers. It should honor Bruce Tucker, who helped make medical history. We should expect it."
I look forward to seeing more letters from insightful readers like Robert Morrison. Stay tuned for more reader comments about the book along with breaking news about The Organ Thieves! Autographed copies are still available from Chop Suey Books in Richmond.
Chip Jones is an award-winning author, journalist and former communications director of the Richmond Academy of Medicine. The Organ Thieves is his fourth book.