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Special Communication
June 23/30, 2004

Genetic Research and Health Disparities

Author Affiliations

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).

JAMA. 2004;291(24):2985-2989. doi:10.1001/jama.291.24.2985

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.

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