American perspectives

The type of healthcare delivery system used by a society says a great deal about what that society thinks of its most vulnerable citizens. African Americans in U.S. society have historically been treated unfairly in every dimension of group and individual life—subjected to segregated and inferior medical services, housing, employment, education, as well as racist environmental policies and practices. These are all factors that determine the collective and individual health of African Americans, which has been, and continues to be, worse than that of white people in the United States.

Until recently, mainstream bioethics paid little attention to the role of race, racism, and ethnicity in bioethical discourse. As opposed to specific issues like stem cell research, abortion, or end-of-life discussions, race plays a role in every ethical conundrum from violation of informed consent to allocation of organ donations. Notably, over the last few years, more bioethicists are devoting serious scholarship to the examination of race as a topic for debate.

An African-American perspective on bioethical issues brings to the table concerns that are important to the health and well-being of African Americans, concerns that are marginalized in mainstream bioethics. They include racial disparities in health status; racial disparities in access to healthcare and technologies; continued medical research abuses; and other factors contributing to poor health such as toxic dumping in communities of color, poor housing, dangerous jobs, and lack of adequate health insurance. African-American perspectives address a major principle: The health disparities of U.S. racial and ethnic groups are a fundamental bioethics issue.

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