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Genetics and Race:
Current Research and Societal Impact
1.) Hypothetical Scenario: You are a doctor and
are about to prescribe a medication to a low-income elderly African-American
man suffering from multiple health problems, including having high
blood pressure and being at high risk for a stroke. In order to
successfully treat this patient numerous factors must be taken into
account: the individual has a family history of heart problems on
both sides of his family; he has been denied medical treatment and
referrals from previous doctors for several years due to the lack
of adequate health insurance; and a recent study shows that African
Americans are subject to increased stress caused from being subject
to various forms of racism throughout life.
The most practical forms of treatment available for your patient
are surgery combined with an approved medicine, or a new radical
medication still in the clinical trial phase, which is supposedly
tailored for the health needs of African-Americans. A successful
surgery will definitely cure your patient, yet is it exceedingly
expensive. The pharmaceutical company claims that the new medication
is specifically designed to interact with the genetic makeup of
an African-American. The medication is available free of charge
if the patient agrees to become a research subject. However, as
it is still in the clinical trial phase, the potential side effects
are unknown at this time. In addition, recent studies have questioned
the efficacy of tailored medications. Based on studies that significant
genetic differences do not exist between racial groups, these researchers
assert that medications or treatments cannot be "tailored"
for racial groups. What recommendations do you give your patient?
2.) Many scientists and researchers are concerned that continued
research into the link between genetics and race will fuel racial
and ethnic biases. In addition, they contend that claims of tailoring
medications and treatments for the respective racial groups would
mislead the public, as the research of genetic interactions is still
incomplete. On the other hand, scientists conducting this research
argue that important clues to the nature of genetic interactions
may be missed if the research is discontinued. They also argue that
a "one size fits all" approach to the use of genetic information
in diagnosis and treatment would be detrimental to minority groups
that are not adequately represented in the research populations.
Could the potential advances from the research of genetic interactions
still be achieved if it was conducted "blind" to differences
in race and ethnicity? Is the potential harm to society and individuals
merited, if this research leads to better diagnoses and treatments?
3.) In the not too distant future, genetic engineering may allow
a person to manipulate one's physical features, including skin color,
height, body composition, and maybe even intelligence.
How will this affect the definition of race, which society currently
bases largely on physical features? How will this impact society's
perception of those individuals who change their skin color or facial
characteristics? What implications does this have for an individual's
concept of identity and race if he/she alters his/her skin tone?
How will this genetic engineering affect human diversity in a community?
What implications does this have for individuals who choose not
to change any of their physical features? Should lawmakers take
any actions to control this type of manipulation in order to maintain