The use of race as proxy in medicine for genetic differences

Abstract

Race is a prominent category in medicine. Epidemiologists describe how rates of morbidity and mortality vary with race, and doctors consider the race of their patients when deciding whether to test them for sickle cell anemia or what drug to use to treat their hypertension. At the same time, critics of racial classification say that race is not real but only an illusion or that race is scientifically meaningless. In this paper, I explain how race is used in medicine as a proxy for genes that encode drug metabolizing enzymes and how a proper understanding of race calls into doubt the practice of treating race as a marker of any medically relevant genetic trait.

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2009-01-28

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Michael Root
University of Minnesota

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