African American Bioethics: Culture, Race, and Identity

By Lawrence J. Prograis Jr.; Edmund D. Pellegrino | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Race, Genetics, and Ethics

Kevin FitzGerald and Charmaine Royal

ON AUGUST 24, 2004, Boston Globe correspondent Carolyn Johnson reported on a controversial development in the study of a new combination of drugs (BiDil) for heart failure. The controversy arose because the African American Heart Failure Trial (A-HeFT), the clinical trial for BiDil, sponsored by NitroMed, was halted prematurely after it was found to significantly extend the lives of African Americans who have had heart failure. The results of the study, subsequently published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) were in contrast to earlier results that showed no significant benefit for white patients.1 The reporter summed up the situation:”So, if the government doesn’t approve BiDil, it would deny African-Americans treatment for a disease that strikes them earlier than whites, often with a deadly outcome; if it does approve it, some will accuse the government of racism and bad science.”2

This controversy surrounding the use of racial categories in health care is by no means limited to the BiDil trial. Many times in the past several years this controversy has made national headlines as research has been interpreted to indicate that there are genetic differences among groups that have traditionally been labeled as separate races.3 In fact, connections between this current research and early twentieth-century eugenics claims are often drawn when such research gains national attention.4 Because the research into the genetic differences among individuals and groups is not likely to slow down anytime soon, due to the much-touted promise of genomic

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