Bioethics News

Striking a Balance

By Peter Young


In April of this year, the Berman Institute and Johns Hopkins Hospital Ethics Committee held its monthly Ethics for Lunch case presentation focusing on how to manage patients who make racist, sexist, and otherwise offensive comments. The discussion, moderated by Dr. Joseph Carrese, featured panelists who have experienced racism/sexism in the clinic, and it allowed audience to gain insight from their perspectives.


During the discussion, there was mention that minority patients in an in-patient setting cannot choose their own doctor based solely on race, because Hopkins’ practice is to pair the best doctor with a patient’s medical needs. I was a bit confused how minority patients not being able to choose race-based concordance in an in-patient setting fits into the larger, nation-wide conversation of minority groups wanting safe spaces. For example, some argue the race of the physician affects the quality of care, and when the provider and patient’s race align, the provider can speak better to certain beliefs, religious practices, nutritional knowledge, and cultural norms. Also, there may be even subtler, yet equally important benefits of having your provider look like you, especially in our current political climate. This includes patient-compliance as well as the potential for less polarizing power dynamics in the provider-patient relationship.


Scholars like Dr. Dayna Bowen Matthew, author of Just Medicine and professor at University of Colorado, might argue that if a white, middle-class person tells an intercity, minority person to take their medication, that patient may be less likely to adhere.

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.