Theodore Dalrymple offers the wise discussion that we wish we found in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Decades ago, during my first week of anesthesiology training, a professor advised me to give a drying agent to black patients if they needed to have a breathing tube inserted while awake. In my professor’s experience these patients produced more oral secretions during airway instrumentation, which complicated the procedure. Later in my training, another professor told me that I should lower the dose when administering narcotics to my Asian patients, because they were more sensitive to that family of drugs.
The first of these professors was Jewish and gay, and so did not fit the stereotypical racist profile; the second was one of the most famous anesthesiologists in the world. Neither one of them was either racist or stupid. Yet when I mentioned their recommendations in print years later, critics did call them both racist and stupid, with some of the bad odor clinging to me for having cited them. Since then I have learned, as most doctors have, that it is okay to talk about diseases associated with certain ethnic groups—for example, Tay-Sachs disease in Ashkenazi Jews or sickle cell anemia in blacks—but not to make isolated ethnic-based or gender-based clinical
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