Carte Blanche

Carte Blanche
The Erosion of Medical Consent

“Urgent, alarming, riveting, and essential.” —Ibram X. Kendi

Carte Blanche relates an alarming reality—how the right of Americans to say “no” to risky medical research is being systematically eroded. For decades, medical research has been legally conducted on trauma victims—who often are people of color—without their consent, or even their knowledge.

Harriet A. Washington, the author of Medical Apartheid, again exposes a large-scale violation of patient, civil, and human rights. In 1990, the Department of Defense forced an experimental anthrax vaccine on ground troops headed for the Persian Gulf. After two 1996 loopholes to federal law permitted research to be conducted even on private citizens, the military quietly used the dangerous blood substitute PolyHeme on non-consenting victims. Since then, more than a dozen studies have used the consent loopholes to impose risky and potentially deadly drugs and devices on research subjects without their knowledge, especially in people of color, many of whom were already justifiably distrustful of documented racial bias in medicine. Carte Blanche is an exposé of a U.S. medical-research system that has repeatedly shown that it is untrustworthy.

This book is published with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Read CGR Director Nicholas Lemann’s Letter to the Reader

Carte Blanche
  • ISBN: 9781734420722
  • Price: $15.99
  • E-book ISBN: 9781734420739
  • On Sale: February 23, 2021
  • Pages: 184


“A tight and informative historical overview of the ways informed consent has been evaded.” Washington Post

“Urgent, alarming, riveting, and essential, Carte Blanche reveals that Americans, including African Americans, are still being medically experimented upon without their consent—yet again in research sanctioned by law. Harriet Washington’s powerful indictment of ongoing medical coercion unveils a gross violation of our human rights. It is vital reading at a moment when change is so necessary.”
Ibram X. Kendi, author of How to Be an Antiracist and Stamped From the Beginning

“Harriet Washington's new book Carte Blanche, about unsanctioned medical experimentation on Americans, is the most unsettling and alarming work I've read in a long time. This issue is not a relic of history. It's a problem RIGHT NOW. This is required reading to understand the context of this pandemic.” —Jelani Cobb, Ira A. Lipman Professor of Journalism, Columbia University

“I want to thank Harriet Washington for her wonderful book. As a physician it was really engaging reading for so many reasons. It encompasses all the human conflicts and challenges we face when working in a fundamentally unjust system.” —Olajide A. Williams, Chief of Staff and Professor of Neurology, Columbia University

"An alarming indictment of exploitative medical research....Reprising evidence that she presented in Medical Apartheid, Washington underscores her argument that African Americans historically have been victimized by researchers....An enlightening and well-supported examination of shocking malfeasance."
Kirkus Reviews


8 Books About the History of Eugenics in the United States — Book Riot

Experimental Overreach: Why doctors and researchers must ask for consent — American Scholar

The Lethal Legacy of Unethical Medical Research — Midday

How The Medical Research System Gets Around Informed Consent — KERA Think

Vaccines, Black Americans, and Medical Consent — WhoWhatWhy podcast

Medical Racism Past and Present — Epidemic podcast

Harriet Washington on the Illusion of Medical Consent — Make It Plain podcast

Harriet A. Washington on the Narrative Around Vaccine Hesitancy in the African American Community — Keen On podcast

What is ‘informed consent?’ A Q&A with Harriet A. Washington — Intima

COVID-19 Chapter 16: Disparities, Take 2 — This Podcast Will Kill You

The Erosion of Medical Consent — Reclaim the Bench podcast

Informed Consent on a Complicated Path for Patients — Emergency Medicine News

Medical Consent and the Vulnerable — Columbia University virtual event (video)

About the author

Harriet A. Washington
© Aaron Mayes

Harriet A. Washington is the author of Medical Apartheid, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Oakland Award, and the American Library Association Black Caucus Nonfiction Award. She has been a research fellow in medical ethics at Harvard Medical School, a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University, and the recipient of a John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University. She lectures in bioethics at Columbia University. Her books also include A Terrible Thing to Waste and Infectious Madness@haw95