special report cover detail

Hastings Center News

Report Examines Racism & Health, Calls on Bioethics to Lead Change

A new Hastings Center special report calls on the field of bioethics to take the lead in efforts to remedy racial injustice and health inequities in the United States. As an academic field concerned with health and health care issues–particularly the influence of structures, policies, practices, and norms on conditions that unfairly advantage some and disadvantage others throughout society–bioethics has a moral responsibility to respond to the longstanding harms that racism has posed to the overall health and well-being of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other people of color.

The special report, “A Critical Moment in Bioethics: Reckoning with Anti-Black Racism Through Intergenerational Dialogue,” represents a collaboration between an independent antiracism task force of bioethicists from across the United States and The Hastings Center, as part of the Center’s health equity initiative. Highlighting the intergenerational work of mostly Black scholars, the report examines structural racism—particularly anti-Black racism— in health care settings, in health equity research and practice, and in bioethics.

“[I]n this critical moment in United States history, we reckon with anti-Black racism and the lack of prioritization of social and racial justice in the field [of  bioethics] by gathering behind social justice issues specifically affecting the health and well-being of Black people,” the editors state in the introduction.

The report– comprised of articles, essays, and commentaries–presents considerations for transforming 1) bioethics scholarship and education, 2) health care and medical education, and 3) health equity research to address structural and systemic forces that perpetuate social injustice.

Additionally, the report concludes with a powerful tribute to the late Marian Gray Secundy (1938-2002), who served as the first Black American to direct a federally funded bioethics center. Dr. Secundy’s legacy of intergenerational engagement and commitment to racial justice in health and health care is central to the work of this special report.

“This special report is a call for structural change, a much-needed push to move from silent allies and activists within our trades, our professional organizations, our communities of practice, our communities of living, and our discipline communities —to uphold and uplift the values of justice and respect for persons within each of our communities and work toward being antiracists,” wrote task force member Vanessa Y. Hiratsuka, PhD, MPH.

The editors of the special report are: Faith E. Fletcher, PhD, MA, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy, Baylor College of Medicine; Keisha S. Ray PhD, McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics at the University of Texas Health Science Center; Virginia A. Brown, PhD, MA, Department of Population Health, University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School; and Patrick T. Smith, PhD, MDiv, MA, Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities, and History of Medicine, Duke University.

The report was supported by a grant from The Greenwall Foundation. Read the full report. Cover art by Wesley Clark.