Janitor mopping floor in hallway office building or walkway after school and classroom silhouette work job with sun light background.

Overworked, Overlooked, and Unprotected: Domestic Workers and COVID-19

By Mariah A. Lindsay*

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities already facing multiple oppressions, including women, people of color, people living with low incomes, and immigrants.

This post focuses on the impacts of the pandemic on a group that encompasses many of these identities: domestic workers, such as home health care workers, house cleaners, and child care workers.

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a crowd of people shuffling through a sidewalk

COVID-19 Immunity as Passport to Work Will Increase Economic Inequality

By Ifeoma Ajunwa

As scientists develop increasingly accurate tests for COVID-19 immunity, we must be on guard as to potential inequities arising from their use, particularly with respect to their potential application as a prerequisite for returning to the workplace.

A focus on immunity as a yardstick for return to work will only serve to widen the gulf of economic inequality, especially in countries like the U.S., which has severe racial health care disparities and uneven access to effective healthcare. This focus could also serve to diminish societal support for further understanding and curtailing the disease.

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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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abortion protest outside supreme court.

Reproductive Rights vs. Reproductive Justice: Why the Difference Matters in Bioethics

By Danielle M. Pacia

When conceptualizing the pursuit of reproductive freedom, we must acknowledge the ways that our systems and structures fail Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) populations.

2020 has been a year filled with anxiety and anger over the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate negative effects on BIPOC populations. Black Lives Matter protests after the unjust deaths of Breonna Taylor, Mia Green, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Riah Milton, and many others whose lives ended far too soon have prompted an overdue awakening. This has caused some to reexamine racism on a personal and institutional level. Like many disciplines in our country, the field of bioethics has begun to recognize how the field reinforces racism within its scholarship.

Part of this effort includes a critical examination of the frameworks we employ when analyzing bioethical subjects and events, and how they may exclude the historical contributions and narratives of BIPOC populations. Merely acknowledging racism is not enough.

Here, I will explain the differences in the terms reproductive justice and reproductive rights and advocate use of the reproductive justice framework instead of the reproductive rights framework. Within bioethics and health law policy, there is often a lack of clarity between the terms, which, in turn, leaves their important conceptual and historical differences ignored.

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Police cars.

Law as a Determinant of Police Violence

By Osagie K. Obasogie

One idea that distinguishes public health from medicine and other health sciences is the social determinants of health. This concept emphasizes the environmental conditions that give rise to health outcomes — poverty, lack of access to resources, exposures to contaminants, etc. — rather than locating disease solely in biological or physiological processes bounded by human bodies. Following this lead, public health interventions are often focused on community practices that can improve the spaces in which people live. The public health approach is refreshingly simple: healthy communities and environments produce healthy people.

A public health framework for understanding how police and policing impact community health outcomes is necessary as we continue to have wide-ranging conversations about excessive use of force. Improving the health of local communities involves rethinking the laws that govern how police interact with the people they serve.

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Woman holding sign that reads "I can't breathe."

Anti-Bias Training is Needed to Counter the Public Health Threat of Systemic Racism

By Megan J. Shen

With the recent confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, many public health issues are seemingly on the line, including the Affordable Care Act, women’s reproductive rights, and access to in vitro fertilization. But Coney Barrett’s lack of awareness of the rampant, systemic racism in the U.S. – an oversight that generally was left out of the flurry of media coverage around her confirmation – is symptomatic of an even more pervasive and dangerous public health threat.

Senator Cory Booker’s questioning of Judge Amy Coney Barrett during her Supreme Court Confirmation hearings revealed her apparent lack of awareness of systemic racism. Booker brought up Coney Barrett’s ruling on a workplace discrimination case.

“This employee claimed that he had been subjected to hostile work environment, and that the supervisor called him the N-word,” Booker said, “But you ruled that the employee had failed to make the case that he had been fired in retaliation for his complaints about race discrimination.”

This instance is one of the clearest demonstrations of the systemic racism prevalent in the U.S. due, in large part, to a lack of anti-racist training and education.

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Rainbow lgbtq pride flag and trans pride flag.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Medical Records Can Reduce Disparities

By Jenna Becker

Sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) data is widely considered crucial to providing competent care to LGBTQ+ patients. This data can also be used to reduce health disparities among sexual and gender minority populations.

Most electronic health record (EHR) vendors are able to document SOGI data. Many health care systems across the country have been collecting SOGI information for several years. However, SOGI documentation is not broadly required. It’s time to require SOGI data collection in EHRs nationwide.

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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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