Society or population, social diversity. Flat cartoon vector illustration.

Unequal Representation: Race, Sex, and Trust in Medicine — COVID-19 and Beyond

By Allison M. Whelan*

The COVID-19 pandemic has given renewed importance and urgency to the need for racial and gender diversity in clinical trials.

The underrepresentation of women in clinical research throughout history is a well-recognized problem, particularly for pregnant women. This stems, in part, from paternalism, a lack of respect for women’s autonomy, and concerns about women’s “vulnerability.” It harms women’s health as well as their dignity.

Over the years, FDA rules and guidance have helped narrow these gaps, and recent data suggest that women’s enrollment in clinical trials that were used to support new drug approvals was equal to or greater than men’s enrollment. Nevertheless, there is still progress to be made, especially for pregnant women. In the context of COVID-19 research, one review of 371 interventional trials found that 75.8% of drug trials declared pregnancy as an exclusion criteria, a concerning statistic given that recent data suggest that contracting COVID-19 during pregnancy may increase the risk of preterm birth.

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Miami Downtown, FL, USA - MAY 31, 2020: Woman leading a group of demonstrators on road protesting for human rights and against racism.

Understanding the Role of Race in Health: Conclusions from the Symposium

By Craig Konnoth

In my introductory post to this symposium, I suggested that medicine and health tapped into a discourse of power that had the power to either harm or help. Medicine can trigger benefits in the law — what I call “medical civil rights,” where advocates rely on medicine’s language to trigger both formal legal rights and public advantage. At the same time, I acknowledged that black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), are often left behind.

In a midpoint reflection, I theorized the problem through the lens of a double bind. On one hand, medicine erases the needs of BIPOC and the harms they experience — the health harms experienced by frontline medical workers, or caused by school and residential segregation — so that they cannot access medical civil rights. On the other hand, BIPOC are rendered hypervisible in contexts where medicine continues to oppress. They are used in clinical trials and tarred with xenophobia and narratives of genetic difference. What should be done?

Several authors offer solutions. I separate them into three categories: (1) community reform, (2) social and legal reform, and (3) medical reform. Of course, all of these solutions are interrelated. Legal and policy change drives medicine; medical research drives law, society, and policy — and both are driven through community activism and consciousness.

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Rays of light in a forest.

What the Study of Religion Can Teach Us About Psychedelics

By Sam S.B. Shonkoff

If there is one thing that the critical study of religion unveils, it is that every enchanting and revelatory movement in human history — without exception, no matter how luminous the auras — is nonetheless human.

Psychedelics are no exception.

These substances are making a lot of brain scientists and policymakers talk about mysticism. And how could they not? A rapidly expanding body of data confirms that historically sacramental elements can induce altered states of consciousness with significant healing powers.

In contrast to today’s more conventional psychopharmacological techniques, which require regular doses to maintain chemical changes in the body, it appears that psychedelic medicines operate precisely by means of transformative experiences, the effects of which can last for months, if not years. Scholars and psychonauts alike can hardly account for these phenomena without recourse to the lexicon of religious studies.

And yet, strangely, scholars of religion have been largely absent from this discourse.

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two watercolor silhouettes.

Neurodiversity and Psychedelics Decriminalization

By Dustin Marlan

Following over fifty years of the racist and corrupt war on drugs, drug decriminalization is now a social justice issue. As I explore in Beyond Cannabis: Psychedelic Decriminalization and Social Justice, the decriminalization of psychedelic drugs, in particular, is a matter of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Psychedelics have long been prohibited under Schedule I of the federal Controlled Substances Act. However, after successful efforts in Denver, Oakland, Santa Cruz, and Ann Arbor, there are now attempts underway to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms and other natural psychedelics in over 100 cities across the country, including Washington, D.C., which will vote on Initiative 81 in November 2020.

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man lying on couch.

Psychedelics and America: A Digital Symposium

By Mason Marks

In 2020, the psychedelics research and policy reform renaissance is in full swing. Prohibited by federal law since the 1970s, psychedelic substances can alter how people see themselves, the world, and those around them. Clinical trials suggest they may help people overcome ingrained thought patterns associated with depression, anxiety, and addiction.

Acknowledging their spiritual and therapeutic potential, universities have established new psychedelics research programs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed them breakthrough therapies for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. This designation means they could be significant improvements over traditional treatments such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Accordingly, the FDA has put some psychedelics on an accelerated course toward approval. Eventually, they could help millions who have not benefitted from existing therapies.

However, despite their breakthrough status, psychedelics will not become FDA approved for several years. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic is making the country’s mental health crisis worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of depression, anxiety, substance use, and suicidal thoughts have risen in the past nine months.

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Vaccine.

Past Anti-Vax Campaign Provides Insights for Current COVID-19 Debates

By Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

A new book on a prominent misinformation campaign targeting the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has profound insights into current vaccine debates, such as those emerging around a potential COVID-19 immunization.

The Doctor Who Fooled the World: Science, Deception, and the War on Vaccines,” by Brian Deer, exposes the elaborate fraud perpetrated by Andrew Wakefield, the former British gastroenterologist who, in the late 1990s, created a scare about MMR vaccine by suggesting it caused autism.

Brian Deer is the journalist who, through several years of dogged investigation, exposed Wakefield’s hidden conflicts of interests and misrepresentations, showing that the small study used to create the scare was not just deeply flawed – as was apparent on its face – but an elaborate fraud.

Unfortunately, Wakefield and his misrepresentations are still with us, and are still putting children at risk all around the world. This makes Deer’s book – which teaches us how Wakefield tricked the world, and the lasting impact of his fraud – timely and important.

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Close-up of a stethoscope on an American flag

Why Justice is Good for America’s Health

By Dayna Bowen Matthew

Justice is good for health [and] . . . health is the byproduct of justice.

— Norman Daniels, Bruce Kennedy & Ichiro Kawachi (Boston Review, 2000)

Among the most salient lessons to be learned from the coronavirus pandemic are that unjust laws produce unjust health outcomes, and that justice is just plain good for America’s health.

Health justice is the moral mandate to protect and advance an equal opportunity for all to enjoy greatest health and well-being possible. Health justice means that no one person or group of people are granted or excluded from the means of pursuing health on an inequitable basis. To achieve health justice, societal institutions such as governments and health care providers must act to advance equality, by increasing fairness and decreasing unfairness of their current and historic impacts on populations.

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doctor holding clipboard.

A Critical Race Perspective on Social Risk Targeting in the Health Care Sector

By Brietta R. Clark

Health care programs, such as Medicaid, are increasingly using social risk assessments to target certain patients or communities for interventions intended to promote health. This includes partnering with other service sectors to provide nutrition, housing or employment assistance, transportation, parenting education, care coordination, and other behavioral supports.

These social interventions are touted as a way to improve health equity, yet they do not address structural racism, a powerful determinant of health. These interventions tend not to measure racial impact, or account for how racial inequity shapes the very structures and systems upon which social interventions depend. Indeed, this inattention means that such well-meaning interventions may inadvertently reinforce racial inequity, subordination, and stigma in marginalized communities.

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Protestor holding sign that reads: "we need reform now."

Using Anti-Racist Policy to Promote the Good Governance of Necessities

By Aysha Pamukcu and Angela P. Harris

Multiple crises creating a “wet cement” moment

In the U.S., racism has repeatedly stymied progress toward the good governance of necessities. Anti-racism, therefore, must be at the core of solutions to our present crises.

One of the most powerful applications of anti-racism is through policy. By enacting and enforcing anti-racist policy, we can govern more of life’s necessities as public goods.

Achieving this requires a robust coalition of advocates who are organized, interdisciplinary, and prepared to promote the equitable governance of vital goods. The “civil rights of health” — a partnership of civil rights, public health, and social justice advocates — can help provide the change infrastructure needed for this paradigm shift.

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(Institute for the feeble-minded, Lincoln, Ill. / Library of Congress)

Why Buck v. Bell Still Matters

By Jasmine E. Harris

In 1927, Buck v. Bell upheld Virginia’s Eugenical Sterilization Act, authorizing the state of Virginia to forcibly sterilize Carrie Buck, a young, poor white woman the state determined to be unfit to procreate.

In less than 1,000 words, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for all but one of the Justices of the Court, breathed new life into an otherwise fading public eugenics movement.

More than 70,000 people (predominantly women of color) were forcibly sterilized in the twentieth century.

Buck is most often cited for its shock value and repeatedly, for what is, perhaps, its most famous six words: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” While this may be the most provocative language in the opinion, it is not the most noteworthy.

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