Medical ethics symposium includes panel on health care and injustice

The question of who has access to health care is currently being asked all around the country. Last Friday’s Benjamin Rabinowitz Symposium in Medical Ethics framed the question a little differently, striving to answer two questions: Who doesn’t have proper health care, and why?

The interdisciplinary conference, titled “Race, Health, and Justice,” was organized by Carina Fourie, Anjum Hajat, and Hedwig Lee.

They were motivated to organize the event due to the scale of injustice in health care. For them, the ideas of inequality and health are inextricably linked. 

 “If you want to think about health, you have to think about justice,” Lee said. 

It was this same recognition that prompted them to ensure the interdisciplinary nature of the event.

“We felt that these racial disparities that permeate every level of society also require people who work on every level of society to be involved in the conversation,” Fourie said. 

According to Hajat, the symposium was ultimately about searching for solutions to an omnipresent problem. 

“I don’t think we can find solutions in isolation,” Hajat said. “That’s why it’s important to bring diverse groups together.”

The third panel of the day, “Freedom to be healthy? Health, healthcare, and injustice,” expressed this cross-disciplinary approach, including Alys Weinbaum from the UW’s English department and Johanna Crane, a medical anthropologist from UW Bothell’s School of Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences.

Lee acted as the substitute third panelist, offering a sociological perspective, after Christopher Parker of the UW political science department was forced to cancel his participation due to an emergency. 

Weinbaum discussed her recently finished book, “The Afterlife of Slavery: Human Reproduction in Biocapitalism,” during her presentation. She argued for the use of black feminist theory as a theory of history that can be an analytical tool to understand how it is that reproductive labor, and reproductive exploitation, fuel biocapitalism. 

“My work is not empirical; it’s not positivist, so it’s not about crunching data or making policy,” Weinbaum said on her inclusion in the symposium. “But the basic ideas about what counts as justice and why justice is impaired by the long history of racism is what everyone in this symposium is studying.” 

Crane followed with a presentation on her incipient research into health care in institutions of incarceration. 

She presented information from the Washington State Department of Corrections about its prison population. Though the overall number of incarcerated persons has decreased recently, the number of prisoners dying while incarcerated is on the rise. 

 Crane also spoke of the differences between the philosophy of providing medically necessary care that is utilized in institutions of incarceration, and the empathic, relational, and humanizing care that is stressed elsewhere. 

Lee finished the panel with a presentation on black respectability politics and what implications they have on health. Lee explained black respectability politics as the idea that people of color often feel the need to present themselves in certain ways in order to avoid violence and discrimination. She went on to suggest that the stress caused by constantly living with these politics, being constantly attentive to one’s speech and actions, results in high stress with medical ramifications. 

The symposium also included two other panels and a keynote presentation by Myisha Cherry, who is currently pursuing her Ph.D in philosophy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. 

For Fourie, Hajat, and Lee, this symposium was just the beginning. They hope to bring it back next year, and in the meantime will continue to host events with The Health and Inequality Network, an organization composed of students and faculty from multiple disciplines interested in health equity. Friday’s symposium acted as the launch of this network.  

“One of the main end goals was to keep the conversation going,” Hajat said.

This article was written by Eilish McLean and orginally appeared in The Daily

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