By Samantha Perez ’21
The Black community in our country is expressing a public outcry on the basis of police brutality, Black oppression, and systemic and systematic racism with protests erupting after George Floyd’s death. However, while these protestors and activists are bringing old issues to light the conversation of Black bioethics is opening up in the medical community. Many bioethicists use Black bioethics in their own ways, but there hasn’t been sufficient attention to what it's really about, what it means for the Black community, and what it means for bioethics as a whole.
Black bioethics is defined as the “exploration and interrogation of any event, ideal, technological advancement, person, or institution that directly or indirectly affects the health or well-being of Black (loosely defined) individuals or the black population.” Bioethics encompasses the ethical issues emerging from advancements in biology, medical technology, and healthcare. These are mainly surrounding issues like patient-physician relationships, physician death, research ethics, and abortion. Social issues like LGBTQ+, Latinx, Female, or Black bioethics are not discussed in the field, just looked over, which makes no sense considering there are so many sides to the talk of social advancements, like sexuality and immigration, that affects patients in healthcare who fall under these minority categories.
The socially inclined topics of bioethics are woefully overlooked in the field and are deemed as not ‘real bioethics,’ which is why the younger generation of bioethicists who focus on these topics are usually left out of medical journals, publishings, and conferences. This is causing the whole study of bioethics to split into multiple branches, each with its own focus and level of attention. Socially focused bioethicists are “not getting a seat at the proverbial bioethics table so instead they’re creating their own table,” writing their own journals and books, starting their own conversations, and completely rebelling against the world of bioethics. In reality, the existence of Black bioethics represents the bioethics field’s lack of attention towards the Black community. Now, Black bioethics is touching on all subjects from police brutality to the difference in patient care between white and Black people to overmedication of Black people.
The bioethics field, as well as the country as a whole, has failed the Black community time and time again, putting Black issues in the dark and forcing them to handle their healthcare and bioethics issues on their own. Though the Black population has been taking these matters into their own hands for years, they have been doing so with no recognition from the bioethics profession.
The conversation and representation of Black bioethics deserves to be a major topic of focus in the bioethics field for its focus on the group of people who have been oppressed since the beginning of this country, for opening up a new way to continue bioethics for minority groups, and for leading a conversation of bioethics that has been in the shadows for far too long.