Why We Need a LatinX Bioethics Subfield


Joanne Suarez, MBE

Publish date

November 2, 2020

by Joanne Suarez, MBE

With attention to race and ethnocultural perspectives, LatinX Bioethics is concerned with addressing the ethical and moral issues impacting LatinX communities. In this transdisciplinary field, the voices of scholars, artists, and activists are essential for highlighting LatinX perspectives and ethical concerns. Some pressing bioethical issues are immigration reform, health disparities, LatinX research inclusion, representation in the bioethics field, and family dynamics in physician-patient relationships.

We need a LatinX Bioethics because the justice and flourishing of under-represented minorities in bioethics relies on having a protected space for interrogating the issues that impact our communities. As harsh as it may be to admit, the politics of the field are such that not all voices are elevated or honored in discourse. With the field being predominantly white, issues of race, ethnicity and culture have rarely been included, until recently in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Introducing a LatinX Bioethics framework for me– a first generation Afro-Latina coming from very humble beginnings— is personal. This work symbolizes more than a framework; it’s the carrying of social histories of my ancestors—ensuring their experiences are at the forefront– and the voices of my predecessors who continue to be impacted by the same issues in a different time period. As a Black woman, daughter, sister, mentor, and scholar, I have a personal duty to ensure that the voices and work of my ancestors are acknowledged and that the voices of the unheard are elevated.

It is especially tiring when people tell us Black and brown folks how we should approach the issues that are impacting our communities. The reclaiming of our narratives demands that we LatinX bioethicists, Black bioethicists, Indigenous bioethicists, and other marginalized voices in the field are amplified and taken seriously.

When thinking of justice for LatinX people I recall the words of Dr. Keisha Ray, “I don’t want your love, I want your justice.” So I think well, where is the justice for the Puerto Rican women and Chicana survivors of coerced sterilization? Where is the justice for Puerto Rican victims of cancer experiments (an experiment by Dr. Cornelius Rhoads) or for the survivors of the Guatemala Syphilis studies? Where is justice in the experimentation on LatinX (and other minority populations) at the expense of developing new emerging biotechnologies—technologies that are often inaccessible to them? How do we achieve justice in the structural determinants of health, like the policies that curate definitions of wellness in our communities? Lastly, where is justice for the LatinX community when discussing rationing, access to healthcare, and morally disturbing public health issues?

When working for justice for LatinX people, we will not conflate love with justice, nor will we wait for it. We will reclaim it.

It is important that we use the tools bioethics has given us to think critically and produce action-focused solutions for addressing issues that impact LatinX communities, along with issues that

impact other communities of color. The flourishing of our communities depends on our advocacy and use of bioethics frameworks; if implemented intentionally they would make an invaluable contribution to shaping the health and wellness for our peoples. 

The introduction of this framework would add value to discourse as we move forward in answering whose justice and whose flourishing? A question that bioethics has struggled to unpack, especially for LatinX people.

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