May 01, 2020
UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program Student Noor Chadha,, UCSF School of Medicine and UC Berkeley School of Public Health | UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program Student Madeleine Kane, UCSF School of Medicine and UC Berkeley School of Public Health | UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program Student Bernadette Lim, UCSF School of Medicine and UC Berkeley School of Public Health | UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program Student Brenly Rowland, UCSF School of Medicine and UC Berkeley School of Public Health

 

Executive Summary

The use of biological race in medicine is an unchallenged, outdated norm throughout clinical education, research, and practice. Medicine largely frames racial health disparities in terms of biological difference and individual behavior, despite evidence that social and structural factors generate and perpetuate most health issues. In particular, racism, a structure and ideology that oppresses and limits resources to minority groups, is rarely discussed in clinical health and the health sciences as a meaningful determinant of health outcomes. Racial health disparities are often wrongly attributed to biology and physiology of racial groups rather than the stratified socioeconomic opportunities that are available. This is bad and irresponsible science.

Toward the Abolition of Biological Race in Medicine: Transforming Clinical Education, Research, and Practice is written by four medical students and graduate student researchers who witness these harms every day in their textbooks, classrooms, clinics, and communities. The paper bridges existing research by critical theory scholar-activists and researchers, and aims to guide clinicians and student learners in medicine, public health, and beyond on why the use of biological race must be abolished in medicine and clinical research, education, and practice.  This paper uses an abolitionist framework, fully embracing that anti-racist work in the field of medicine is inherently personal, political, and technical. After establishing that racism, not race, causes health disparities, the paper reveals the violent history of racism in medicine. From this foundation, the paper draws on current examples of the use of biological race in medicine to highlight the urgent need to transform these outdated practices and center patient care.