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Genetics and Race:
Current Research and Societal Impact

Ethical Questions

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 human diversity?