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President's Perspective: The J. Marion Sims Lectureship at PFD Week

November 17, 2017 10:39 AM

Many of us have been thinking about J. Marion Sims quite a bit over the past few months.  His contributions to women’s health were many; that much is beyond dispute.   Sims cannot and should not be held responsible for the institution of slavery itself.  But the reality is that there is much we cannot know, and the dynamics of power cannot be separated from the story.

I have spoken with many AUGS members about this, and I do not think that any two of us have precisely the same view.  Many of you have taken advantage of the email address, a direct line from members to the Board of Directors, to express your thoughts.  We have heard from those who say, “history should be left alone, statues should not be torn down.”  However, an annual event is not the same as a statue, erected once and left in place.  A lectureship is an annual reaffirmation of the views and opinions it was named to represent.  While the J. Marion Sims lecture served this society well for many years, we are no longer unified in our views, and it now serves primarily as a source of polarization, pain, and disenfranchisement. 

Since AUGS can no longer speak with one voice about this topic, the Board of Directors of AUGS has determined that it is the right time for the J. Marion Sims lectureship to be retired. 

I invite us all to continue to appreciate, and to teach, the history of surgical progress, including that of Sims.  I encourage us, in doing so, to reaffirm our commitment to the ethical application of surgical innovation (surely, we can all agree that we have not yet perfected reconstructive pelvic surgery).  Furthermore, I hope that we can remember the contributions of Anarcha, Lucy, Betsy, and countless other women in history that have contributed, as patients, to our science and to our daily practice.

For now, let us return our focus to our core mission: to promote the highest quality patient care through excellence in education, research and advocacy.  I also hope that will continue to serve to enhance communication within our Society, for this issue, and for those to come.

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