The Meanings of 'Race' in the New Genomics: Implications for Health Disparities Research

Posted: 3 Sep 2001

See all articles by Sandra Soo-Jin Lee

Sandra Soo-Jin Lee

Stanford University

Joanna Mountain

Stanford University

Barbara Koenig

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)

Abstract

Despite its lack of biological validity, the category of "race," and assumptions of racial difference, continue to influence medical research and practice in the United States. The Human Genome Project has intensified the search for correlations between genetic variation and disease. Eliminating well-documented health disparities among "racialized" populations has become a key public policy goal. This article provides a strong critique of the use of race as a scientific variable. Offering a historical analysis of race as a social construct, we describe the reification of race in health research. We discuss how genetic technology has been deployed to "prove" racial identity, and highlight the moral consequences of locating identity in the genes. We warn about targeted genetic screening for racially identified "at-risk" groups, including the potential for stigmatization and discrimination, and the inadvertent creation of newly racialized diseases. A naive genetic determinism will not only reinforce the dangerous idea that discrete human races exist, but will divert attention from the complex environmental, political, and social factors contributing to the unfair distribution of illness. The intersection of the genomics revolution with the health disparities initiative should serve as a catalyst to a long overdue public policy debate about the appropriate use of "race" in biomedicine.

Suggested Citation

Lee, Sandra Soo-Jin and Mountain, Joanna and Koenig, Barbara, The Meanings of 'Race' in the New Genomics: Implications for Health Disparities Research. Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law, and Ethics, Vol. 1, No. 1, 2001. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=271716

Sandra Soo-Jin Lee

Stanford University

Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Joanna Mountain

Stanford University

Departments of Anthropological Sciences and Genetics
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Barbara Koenig (Contact Author)

University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) ( email )

Third Avenue and Parnassus
San Francisco, CA 94143
United States

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