New in the Hastings Center Report: Health, race, and society during Covid-19

July 09, 2020

Several essays look specifically at how racial inequality is embodied in health inequities.

Black Lives in a Pandemic: Implications of Systemic Injustice for End-of-Life Care

Alan Elbaum

In recent months, Covid-19 has devastated African American communities across the nation, and a Minneapolis police officer murdered George Floyd. The agents of death may be novel, but the phenomena of long-standing epidemics of premature black death and of police violence are not. This essay argues that racial health and health care disparities, rooted as they are in systemic injustice, ought to carry far more weight in clinical ethics than they generally do. In particular, this essay examines palliative and end-of-life care for African Americans, highlighting the ways in which American medicine, like American society, has breached trust. Is there such a thing as a "good" or "dignified" death when African Americans are dying not merely of Covid-19 but of structural racism? Elbaum is a medical student in the UC Berkeley-UCSF Joint Medical Program.

The Future of Bioethics: It Shouldn't Take a Pandemic

Larry R. Churchhill, Nancy M.P. King, and Gail E. Henderson

This essay looks at how a focus on "lifeboat" issues in the pandemic, such as rationing and fair allocation of scarce medical resources, has diverted attention from the structural racism that magnifies the burden of disease for people of color. "The Centers for Disease Control and others are now posting race-linked data showing that Covid-19 is fast becoming what Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor has called 'the Black Plague,'" the authors write. They argue that it is time to broaden our teaching, research, and practice to match the breadth of the field in order to help address these significant societal inequities and unmet health needs. Churchill is a professor of medical ethics emeritus at Vanderbilt University. King is a professor at Wake Forest University. Henderson is a professor at University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

Other essays include:
The full Hastings Center Report is available here:


For more information and to interview authors, contact

Susan Gilbert
The Hastings Center
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The Hastings Center

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