Author Affiliations: Center for Bioethics, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia (Dr Sankar); Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences (Dr Koenig), Center for Biomedical Ethics (Drs Cho, Koenig, and Lee), Stanford University, Palo Alto, Calif; Department of Speech Communication, University of Georgia, Athens (Dr Condit); Department of Anthropology, Michigan State University, East Lansing (Dr Hunt); Department of Bioethics, School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio (Dr Marshall); and University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver (Dr Spicer).
Alleviating health disparities in the United States is a goal with broad
support. Medical research undertaken to achieve this goal typically adopts
the well-established perspective that racial discrimination and poverty are
the major contributors to unequal health status. However, the suggestion is
increasingly made that genetic research also has a significant role to play
in alleviating this problem, which likely overstates the importance of genetics
as a factor in health disparities. Overemphasis on genetics as a major explanatory
factor in health disparities could lead researchers to miss factors that contribute
to disparities more substantially and may also reinforce racial stereotyping,
which may contribute to disparities in the first place. Arguments that promote
genetics research as a way to help alleviate health disparities are augmented
by several factors, including research funding initiatives and the distinct
demographic patterns of health disparities in the United States.
Sankar P, Cho MK, Condit CM, Hunt LM, Koenig B, Marshall P, Lee SS, Spicer P. Genetic Research and Health Disparities. JAMA. 2004;291(24):2985-2989. doi:10.1001/jama.291.24.2985