What's Wrong with Race-Based Medicine?

22 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2012

See all articles by Dorothy E. Roberts

Dorothy E. Roberts

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School

Date Written: Winter 2011


This article is based on the 2010 Dienard Memorial Lecture on Law and Medicine at University of Minnesota and part of a larger book project, Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-create Race in the Twenty-first Century (The New Press, 2011). In June 2005, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first pharmaceutical indicated for a specific race. Its racial label elicited three types of criticism – scientific, commercial, and political. I discuss the first two controversies en route to what I consider the main problem with race-based medicine – its political implications. By claiming that race, a political grouping, is important to the marketing of drugs and that race-based drugs can reduce health disparities, which are caused primarily by social inequality, those who promote racialized medicine have made this a political issue. Yet, having made these political claims, these very advocates answer criticism by saying we must put aside social justice concerns in order to improve minority health. This article explains why marketing pharmaceuticals on the basis of race is more likely to worsen racial inequities than cure them.

Keywords: health policy, ethnicity, genetics, bioethics, pharmacogenomics, discrimination, health disparity, FDA

Suggested Citation

Roberts, Dorothy E., What's Wrong with Race-Based Medicine? (Winter 2011). Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, Vol. 12, pp. 1, 2011, U of Penn Law School, Public Law Research Paper No. 12-52, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2187359

Dorothy E. Roberts (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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