Should hospitals give preferential care based on race? One hospital in Boston thinks so, using critical race theory as a basis for “medical reparations.”
Of every demographic, black Americans face the most risk for adverse health outcomes in the United States. We should concern ourselves with decreasing that risk. But adapting certain controversial critical race theory approaches to healthcare is not an ethical solution to the problem.
Currently, fierce debates on critical race theory rage in the education space. Based on the idea that race is a social construct, critical race theory holds that racism is woven into the very fabric of all social frameworks. Critical race theory’s educational approaches are diverse, ranging from teaching historical facts to categorizing children as oppressed or oppressors based on immutable characteristics such as skin color.
Similar debates and diverse approaches to addressing racial disparities are being explored in the healthcare space as well.
Many efforts to fix racial disparities in healthcare are positive. For example, a 2016 medical study reported that some doctors held false assumptions that black bodies are more pain tolerant. It found that black Americans were undertreated for pain and less likely than white patients to receive analgesics in the emergency room for severe injuries. Addressing this false belief will lead to positive changes in health outcomes for black patients.
In New Jersey, black patients faced a disproportionate amount of negative outcomes for a specific type of heart surgery than white patients. Looking for solutions, the state legislature decided to remove a restrictive healthcare law that prevented more hospitals from providing the surgery. Once the restriction was removed, there was no longer any difference in outcome between patients of different races.
Another positive improvement has been the creation of inclusive medical illustrations. Many medical textbooks do not contain much diversity in their illustrations. One obstetric illustration of a black pregnant mother recently went viral.
But relying on controversial critical race theory to effect meaningful change in healthcare outcomes for black Americans would be both foolhardy and unethical.
The Boston hospital’s pilot program that is adopting critical race theory into healthcare, declared that medical reparations are needed for equity. What would those medical reparations look like?
To fix the inequitable outcomes in cardiac medicine, the pilot program seeks to give “a preferential admission option” to black and Hispanic heart patients. It also seeks to institute preferential admittance in hospitals, giving cash transfers or tax breaks for hospitals that implement “race-explicit protocol changes”. The program also seeks to provide discounted or free healthcare for minorities.
The Boston hospital doctors admit that the practices may “elicit legal challenges” but that it is justified because their “approach is corrective and therefore mandated.”
Some doctors warn that adopting preferential healthcare treatment (and paying hospitals to do so!) could be applied to anything from admittance in emergency rooms to organ waitlists. Truly, such approaches would cause much social strife and further corrode public trust in a healthcare system already damaged by the pandemic.
Our nation is predicated on the idea that all men are created equal, with life listed as man’s first natural right. Critical race theory in healthcare flies in the face of that foundational idea. If practiced, the underlying message becomes that some men are born more equal than others, and that skin color determines whether someone has more of a right to life than another.
America is already divided. For the sake of holding our nation together, we must not inject controversial critical race theory into life and death matters.
McKenzie Richards is a policy associate at the Pacific Research Institute.