Race-based medicine: a case for competency and solidarity in minority communities.

Date of Award


Document Type



Caspersen School of Graduate Studies

Degree Name

Doctor of Medical Humanities


In 2005, The United States Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of BiDil, “the black heart failure drug,” created false perceptions of tailored research, technology and therapeutic intervention for specific racial groups by resuscitating race as a proxy in medicine. Unlike other heart failure drugs, BiDil is specifically targeted to treat the African American community. Compared to other races, African Americans suffer from disproportionately higher rates of heart failure. BiDil shapes race as the primary indicator for the predispositions to certain diseases. BiDil is categorized as race based medicine (RBM) or race-specific medicine. Race-based medicine or race-based therapeutics is the process by which pharmaceutical companies create a drug that is specifically made for a selected racial group. Race-based medicine has been used and defended in therapeutic intervention to treat minorities that have diseases or illnesses that are prevalent in their specific group. This development cannot be solely explained by scientific medicine, but rather participates in a long history of racial discourse in cardiology. Race-based medicine is not a ground breaking concept but a recycled idea founded out of the American Eugenics Movement (AEM), from the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. The FDA's approval of BiDil has sparked controversy in the use of race-based medicine. Race-based medicine can stigmatize racial groups by attributing and imposing certain diseases and behavioral traits. It can also exploit racial groups, in a market-based pharmaceutical culture, by capitalizing on racial identity. It misconstrues the distinctions of race, ancestry and genetics by promoting assumptions that race alone is the marker of disease, which inaccurately influence scientific studies and research. Race-based medicine is not the way to solve prevalent diseases in racial groups but the awareness and acknowledgement of the predispositions and socioeconomic inequities existing in minority groups. Furthermore, one needs to acknowledge human ancestral groups and geographical conditions can contribute to specific diseases that affect racial groups. This dissertation will examine the ways in which race is not an accurate proxy for basing therapeutic intervention and will examine various applications of race-based medicine that undermine minority communities' health with clinical and theological solutions as a response.