NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Role of Race in Medical Diagnosing

May 6, 2002

Doctors are arriving at the conclusion that race must be considered as a factor in developing a proper treatment for some patients, since whites and African-Americans respond to some medications in entirely different ways. In other words, one size doesn't fit all, and political correctness is out of place in some aspects of medicine.

  • For example, the New England Journal of Medicine recently published a study revealing that the drug enalapril -- a standard treatment for chronic heart failure -- was less effective in blacks than in whites; but a companion study revealed that carvedilol, a beta blocker , was equally beneficial to both races.
  • It has also been established that blacks metabolize anti-depressants more slowly than Caucasians and Asians -- indicating the need for lower doses initially for black patients to avoid unwelcome side effects.
  • Some doctors have learned to give their black patients a drying agent before performing an intubation -- the placing of a breathing tube down a patient's windpipe -- because blacks tend to salivate more heavily than whites, which can cause serious complications.
  • Physicians report that Asians tend to have a greater sensitivity to narcotics.

Some critics contend that race-based medicine is both morally and scientifically wrong. Robert S. Schwartz, a deputy editor of the New England Journal of Medicine has written "Race is not only imprecise but also of no proven value in treating an individual patient."

But many doctors have found countless situations in which considering the race factor has led to avoidance of complications and the saving of lives.

Source: Sally Satel (American Enterprise Institute), "I am a Racially Profiling Doctor", New York Times Magazine, May 5, 2002.  


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