By: Leah Howard
This drug complicated discussions on the larger issue of health disparities. The populations most afflicted by health disparities are minorities and, in the wake of the mapping of the human genome, health disparities have been prioritized differently. Pharmaceuticals are understood to bring medicine to socially excluded populations. With the approval of BiDil as a drug that only benefits a certain group the questions of race and ethics are brought to the forefront of the discussion on health disparities. Do distinct races exist?
In 2000, the Human Genome Project (HGP) mapped over 2,000 genomes of human DNA and the project remains essential to improving human health. One stated purposed of genome mapping is increased knowledge of the biochemical processes of the human body and the causes of disease. The sequence focuses on the sameness of humanity. Some scientists argue that racial differences have no platform in modern biology – the HGP assumes that humans lack differences genetically. However other researchers argue that even a 0.1% variation in genetic composition can translate into significant genetic differences, and ultimately can involve differences related to race.
Understanding race at the level of genes and molecules is very different from the earlier ways of classifying race in the 1900’s. In the past, race was defined by physical attributes and ultimately used in order to subordinate certain populations. Research on race and genomics today is intended to improve health and lifelong well being.
First, these guidelines assume that the drug will work on all African-Americans and the approval of BiDil seems to ignore individualized variation in the race. There is a homogenization of the population and even if there are differences, there is still some overlap in the response meaning patients are assumed to have similar reactions to the drug. There are a number of other issues - the trial that sparked the drug's approval had only African-American participants and there was no comparative study. Politically, there is a key problem: could the drug be credited with increasing inequality? The idea that particular races are more susceptible to developing disease or responding differently can also fuel racial misconceptions and racial stereotypes.
In conclusion, the practice of using genetics to explain the differences between races can have rather significant and negative consequences. Drugs targeting specific groups can effect the quality of health and bring hope to a historically oppressed community. On the other hand, we must be careful not to reduce health disparities to an issue that is simply grounded in genetics and biology. We must also be aware of the consequences associated with combining race and biology. We need to be attentive to both the positive and negative aspects of racialized medicine.
If you would like to watch the full video, see the link below: https://youtu.be/Eaw1hj-n5XY