Race, Health Care and the Law 
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Lawyers Seek Remedies for Health Care Disparities

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Vernellia R. Randall
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 Wendell Lagrand

EQUALITY IN THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE: Lawyers Seek Remedies for Racial Disparities in U.S. Health Care, 1 NO. 19 ABA Journal E-Report 10 (May 17, 2002)

The racial issues most often addressed in the United States concern jobs, housing and education. But equal access to medical care may be as urgent as any other need.

"Gaps in health care have not changed in 30 years,' said Annette Dula, a senior research associate at the University of Colorado in Boulder. 'The infant mortality rate of African-Americans since 1970 has grown to three times that of whites. The overall percentage of black doctors in the United States has increased only four-tenths of a percent, from 3.5 percent to 3.9 percent, since that time.''

Dula spoke at a conference, "Bioethics, Minorities and the Law: Rights and Remedies," held to raise awareness and discuss legal efforts to reverse the trends. The meeting in Tuskegee, Ala., in early April was co-sponsored by the ABA's Tort and Insurance Practice Section, the Tuskegee University National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, and the National Bar Association, whose membership is primarily minority lawyers.

"We lawyers have the capacity to help find remedies for victims through the law," said Mitchell Orpett, immediate-past chair of TIPS. The conference "remind[ed] us that we have a unique capability to remedy injustice and craft legal protections."

The source of the disparities in medical services is complex, according to a March report from the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Medicine, "Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care."

"Disparities are rooted in historic and contemporary inequities," the report states, "and involve many participants at several levels, including health systems, their administrative and bureaucratic processes, utilization managers, health care professionals and patients."

The report asserts that racial and ethnic minorities tend to receive a lower quality of health care than nonminorities, even when controlling for access- related factors such as insurance, status and income.

Marian Gray Secundy, the newly appointed director of the Tuskegee bioethics center, said, "The entire history of health care in the United States has been shamefully blighted by a long series of racial inequalities.'

And this history of inequities cannot be ignored, said Tuskegee University President Benjamin F. Payton.

"Blacks have difficulty feeling a sense of confidence in medical care," he said. "It grew out of our history of abuse. It is documented here in Macon County."

Tuskegee is the site of the infamous Tuskegee experiment, a U.S. government study in which hundreds of black men suffering from syphilis were observed without receiving treatment or being informed that they had the disease. No white men were included in the study, which began in 1932 and lasted 40 years.

In 1997, President Clinton issued an official apology to the survivors of the program and awarded a $200,000 grant to create the Tuskegee University bioethics center.

One unfortunate legacy of the experiment, Dula said, is that blacks are reluctant to participate in contemporary medical research programs due to a lingering distrust of the medical system.

And low participation in research, including clinical trials, can impede the development of effective drugs and treatments, said M. Gabriela Arcade, an associate professor at the University of Louisville's Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy and Law.

"Barriers to participation need to be addressed," she said. "We must carefully incorporate racial and ethnic variables" to drug and treatment testing to produce results that will be applicable to a wide range of people.

The Tort and Insurance Practice Section presented a $5,000 donation for the Tuskegee Human and Civil Rights Multicultural Center to Fred Gray Sr., the Tuskegee attorney who represented and won settlements for subjects of the syphilis experiment and for their descendants.

Related Pages:
Home ] Up ] Racist Health Care ] Using Civil Rights Law to Eliminate Health Disparities ] Racist laws which effect Hispanic Health Care ] Minorities Health Access ] Access to Health Care and Minorities ] Discrimination and Inaccessibility ] Why Race Matters? ] Discrimination and Quality ] Racial Profiling in Health Care ] Self-Perpetuating Mythology - the Degenerate Black Patient ] Health and Civil Rights: Unfinished Agenda ] [ Lawyers Seek Remedies for Health Care Disparities ] Race Medicine and HealthCare in LA County ]
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Professor Vernellia R. Randall
Institute on Race, Health Care and the Law
The University of Dayton School of Law
300 College Park 
Dayton, OH 45469-2772
Email: randall@udayton.edu


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