October 6, 2022

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health life

Racial Essentialism Corrupts Medicine | City Journal

3 min read

The progressive Left is openly attempting to codify racial categories into education, culture, law—and now medicine. New York State has authorized health-care providers to include race in a set of risk factors to determine who qualifies for the limited quantity of life-saving Covid-19 treatments. New York City’s official guidance to providers also reads: “Longstanding systemic health and social inequities may contribute to an increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.” As a result, health-care providers in the city will now “consider race and ethnicity when assessing individual risk,” prioritizing nonwhite patients over their white counterparts.

Skin color is far too broad a category to offer any meaningful insight at the individual level. Using race as a proxy to assess an individual’s risk would make sense only if there were evidence that it genetically puts one at higher risk of severe Covid. No such evidence exists. The virus does not appear to selectively target those of African descent, for example. African countries generally have far lower Covid death rates than Western ones.

Of course, the New York Health Department is not claiming otherwise. Under the influence of woke ideology, it is using oversimplified racial categories to correct for alleged systemic inequities that fall along racial lines. On progressive thinking, this compromising of medical practice allegedly achieves a greater social good. Racial prioritization is not perfect, say progressives, but it is justified on a group level since whites have better outcomes than “people of color” in the aggregate.

But even this rationale doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. Not all nonwhite groups suffer more than whites on average from Covid. According to CDC data last updated on November 22, Asian-Americans have a 20 percent lower rate of Covid hospitalizations and a 10 percent lower rate of Covid deaths. There is no justification for prioritizing Asians over whites for Covid therapeutics.

At the individual level, prioritizing race makes no sense, either, because it is irrelevant to Covid risk. Vaccination status, health condition, and age are far greater risk factors. The greatest of all these is age, as Joel Zinberg has observed. It’s true that black Americans have the highest prevalence of obesity and therefore heightened risk of Covid disease in the aggregate. But race-neutral medical assessments targeting obesity and other medical risk factors will naturally lead to these populations disproportionately moving to the head of the line, without any need to discriminate on the basis of race.

Unfortunately, other states have begun to follow New York’s lead. Guidelines from Minnesota’s Department of Health now declare that medical facilities should use race as a factor in determining who receives the limited supplies of highly effective monoclonal antibody treatments. According to the document, those who are not of “BIPOC [black, indigenous, and people of color] status” will be “deprioritize[d].” Theoretically, an affluent Asian-American would enjoy priority over a poor Lebanese immigrant with roughly the same age and health condition.

Ironically, such policies perpetuate a hidden anti-minority racism: that a healthy black person, for example, belongs by definition to a sick, diseased group. All “people of color” are seemingly not capable of maintaining their health and therefore should be privileged in the process for distributing lifesaving Covid drugs.

The growing ideological capture of medicine is consistent with the Left’s efforts to establish race as a marker of a host of attributes such as societal victimization, moral worth, economic status, agency, health, and now Covid risk. As long as institutions continue to assign meaning to skin color, the quest to transcend racial divisions will never be realized.

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https://www.city-journal.org/racial-essentialism-corrupts-medicine

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