News at Medicine - November 2017 - From chemical weapon to cancer treatment


From chemical weapon to cancer treatment
November 9, 2017
Dr. Susan Smith has published books ranging from Japanese midwifery to black women’s health activism and now her latest book deals with the connection between mustard gas and cancer treatment.
 
Dr. Smith will be the guest speaker for the 2017 Dr. Nigel Rusted Lectureship in Medical Humanities, taking place on Nov. 17. Dr. Smith’s talk From Chemical Weapon to Cancer Treatment: Mustard Gas and the Origins of Chemotherapy, came from a long research path that started with a CBC news report.
 
“I first encountered the topic of mustard gas during and the Second World War in the year 2000. I listened with shock to a CBC news report about the arrival of then Canadian Defence Minister Art Eggleton who had come to the province of Alberta to put up a plaque to honour a group of Canadian veterans,” Dr. Smith recalled. “As young soldiers, the men had volunteered to participate in secret research at a military experimental station in southern Alberta. I was appalled by the reporter’s descriptions of the military’s human experiments with mustard gas, which involved skin tests, aerial field tests and even gas chamber tests.”
 
With her interest in the politics of health and the relationship between society and medicine, she notes that Remembrance Day is a good time to recall the health consequences of war and the impact of war on the field of medicine. 
 
“This year marks the 100th anniversary of the first use of mustard gas in warfare and the 75th anniversary of the first use of a mustard agent as chemotherapy. It is high time we recognize the contributions of these forgotten medical researchers and veterans to the advancement of medicine and the treatment of cancer.”
 
Dr. Smith is a historian of medicine and professor of history in the Department of History and Classics at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Her new book, Toxic Exposures: Mustard Gas and the Health Consequences of World War II in the United States (Rutgers University Press, 2017), examines the toxic legacy of war for humans and the environment. Her book investigates the use of soldiers as human subjects, race-based medical experiments, ocean dumping of chemical munitions, and the links between chemical weapons and cancer treatment. She has also published some of this research in the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics and the CMAJ. In addition, she is the author of Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired: Black Women’s Health Activism in America, 1890-1950 and Japanese American Midwives: Culture, Community, and Health Politics, 1880-1950.
 
Dr. Rusted’s passion for the medical humanities prompted him to launch the Dr. Nigel Rusted Lectureship in Medical Humanities in 2003. He died March 18, 2012, at the age of 104.
 
The 2017 Dr. Nigel Rusted Lectureship in Medical Humanities will take place in the main auditorium of the Health Sciences Centre on Friday, Nov. 17 from 12-1 p.m.