King discusses race, genomics and medical studies in Nelkin Lecture (AUDIO)

In the fifth annual Dorothy Nelkin Lecture, titled "A Dangerous Crossroad: Race, Genomics and Medicine," Patricia King, the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law, Medicine, Ethics, and Public Policy at Georgetown University Law Center, was candid about her bioethical concerns regarding the intersection of biomedical studies and racial categories. "In the past, genetic frames, genetic models, genetic information had been used in ways to suggest that there was a biological basis for race," said King. "And we knew that there was more attention paid to these genetic explanations than there were to the social and cultural and economic factors that also helped explain health and disease."


King began her career as a civil rights lawyer and developed a deep interest in bioethics after the public revelation of the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, in which infected African-American sharecroppers were observed but left untreated for the disease. She became a member of the Ethics, Legal and Social Issues Working Group of the National Institutes of Health's Human Genome Center when the Human Genome Project was launched at the beginning of the 1990s. King harbored reservations about the trend toward minority inclusion in NIH research, because it introduced potentially distorting racial considerations to the scientific process. As King had predicted, the Human Genome Project eventually began to study human variation. In hindsight, she said, "What I'd been watching is what I call a perfect storm…leading us to this point where there is an overarching emphasis on human difference, on what separates human beings despite the essential finding of the Human Genome Project that humans are more alike than different, that there is more variation within population groups than between populations."

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