Bioethics Blogs

Inefficient pain management for black patients shows that there is a fine line between ‘inhumane’ and ‘superhuman’

by Keisha Ray, Ph.D.

It’s well known that in America there are great disparities in health, access to health care, and health care outcomes between black people and white people, with black people, on average, faring much worse than white people. For example, if you are black in America you are more likely to die from breast cancer, heart disease, strokes, and giving birth than if you are white in America. According to the National Institute of Medicine, health disparities between races exist even when factors such as stage of disease presentation and the severity of disease are the same.

This has led some researchers to believe that there are social causes for some health disparities that are not due to people’s lifestyle choices or their noncompliance with medical advice. For example, there are sleep disparities between races, with black Americans more likely to get less sleep and lesser quality of sleep than white Americans. Explanations for sleep disparities include disparities in discrimination (The more discrimination you encounter, the more stressed you become, and the more stressed you become the less likely you are to sleep.). Additionally, researchers at the University of California, San Diego have speculated that there is a correlation between living in lower quality neighborhoods (including high noise levels, lack of safety, and higher rates of crime, which are more likely to be populated by black Americans than white Americans) and a lack of sleep.

Social factors are also thought to be responsible for disparities in adequate pain management between black Americans and white Americans.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.