Racism and bioethics

Xavier Symons
April 9, 2016
Reproduced with Permission

A new edition of the American Journal of Bioethics considers the role that bioethics can play in addressing racism in healthcare, education, and general society.

Contributors cover a broad range of topics, including justice and racism, the treatment of undocumented immigrants in the healthcare and education systems, ethics education in medical schools, and 'intersectional' approaches to addressing racial inequalities.

Loyola University bioethicist Kayhan Parsi argues in his guest editorial that bioethics should have as a predominant concern the elimination of structural racism in medical schools, healthcare organisations, and, indeed, the discipline itself:

"If we want to eliminate structural racism, we have to change the structures… leadership in bioethics should strive to be more diverse and inclusive. The American Society for Bioethics and Humanities has never had a president of color…we need to cultivate more leadership opportunities for people of color in the field of bioethics."

In a commentary, Abbas Rattani notes that "The bioethics discipline lacks a firm presence in HBMSs [historically black medical schools]" in the US. Rattani argues for the establishment of bioethics programs in all of these schools.

Melissa Weddle of Oregon Health and Science University argues that bioethicists have a limited role and scope for addressing institutional injustice, and that a concerted social effort is needed to adequately deal with entrenched racism:

"Addressing the racial injustices of our society is a mission that belongs to educators, journalists, policymakers, legal professionals, spiritual leaders, legislators, funders of research, law enforcement workers, hospital administrators, public health professionals, and all who participate in provision of medical care. Racism permeates every level of our society, and significant societal change will require sustained efforts within many disciplines by those with diverse experience and training."