Document Type


Publication Date



Straw men play a major role in the debate over racial disparity in American medicine. Most have been deployed by the disparities-denying right, but progressives intent on “outing” racism have sent forth their share. This essay flushes out the straw men while attempting to understand the competing moral premises that drive the politics of health care disparity. At bottom, arguments about the scope of disparity and discrimination in medical care are disputes about the appropriate scope of personal responsibility for life circumstances. Further research into the factors that correlate with racial differences in health care can shed light on the circumstances that bring about these differences.Whether these circumstances, once understood, should be deemed acceptable is a moral and political matter, and sharp differences over the scope of personal and public responsibility for these circumstances are inevitable. Such disagreements, however, distract us from efforts to reach common ground solutions to agreed-upon inequities in health care.

Publication Citation

48 Persp. Biology & Med. S54-S67 (2005)