When should medicine talk about race?

When should medicine talk about race?

Scientific American
Unofficial Prognosis: Perceptions and prescriptions of a medical student

Ilana Yurkiewicz
Harvard Medical School

Race is everywhere in medicine. Most health statistics are broken down by race. We routinely characterize diseases by which populations they affect more and less and medications by which ethnicities respond better or worse.
It’s so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take for granted as justified. But the use of race in medicine is a subject that is vigorously debated. Whenever a new study comes out stratifying results by race, there are inevitably supporters and critics.
The question under debate: is there a place for race in medicine?

There’s a growing number who say we should toss this way of thinking entirely. Many scholars now contend that race is closer to a social construct than a biological category, and there’s the legitimate fear that pointing out differences between races sends the message that the difference is biological. Even if there are certain genetic differences among populations, we know that self-reported race is at best a crude proxy for indicating them. Moreover, studies often do not adjust for all other variables besides genetics, such as socioeconomic status, culture, and discrimination – meaning if differences are shown, the knee-jerk tendency to think biology might overshadow important environmental disparities that deserve our attention. There are social concerns too, in that historically ethnicity in research has been abused by pseudoscientists with racist agendas of demonstrating the superiority of certain people over others. In light of that history, profound sensitivity toward using race as a variable in medicine is understandable and warranted…

…When comparing groups, we can draw the lines wherever we want. Telling of this point is that many studies that talk about race still only compare blacks to whites, ignoring all other groups along with cases of mixed ancestry…

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