“Racially-Tailored” Medicine Unraveled


In June 2005, the FDA approved BiDil, a heart failure medication that is labeled for use only by African-Americans and thus, is the first treatment of its kind. The drug likely portends a future of growing interest in “race-based” medicine. This phenomenon is emerging at the same time that scientists, in light of the Human Genome Project, are reaching an understanding that “race” has no biological meaning, and consequently, “racially-tailored” medicine is both puzzling and troubling.

This Article explores the reasons for the new focus on “racial-profiling” in medicine. It analyzes the risks and dangers of this approach, including medical mistakes, stigmatizations, discrimination, exacerbation of health disparities, and violation of anti-discrimination mandates. The author does not argue against the pursuit of attribute-based therapies, but cautions that the attribute or attributes at issue must be carefully determined and will not be equivalent to what is conventionally thought of as “race.” The article develops recommendations for safeguards that should be implemented by scientific review boards, IRBs, researchers, health care providers, and journalists involved with attribute-based research and therapeutic practices to ensure that this new approach promotes rather than diminishes public health and welfare.


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Food and Drug Law | Health Law and Policy | Medical Jurisprudence

Date of this Version

August 2005