Contemporary Debates in Biomedical Ethics

Racism in Medicine and Research: Navigating Through Wicked Problems

Instructor: Prof. Bernice Elger and invitees

Coordinator: Aoife Milford, David Azilagbetor and Dr. Lester Darryl Geneviève

Course Description

Following the tragic police killing of George Floyd in 2020, public and scientific attention have been reignited on the topic of racism in general, and on structural racism in particular. Structural racism does not limit itself to law enforcement, all domains including medicine and biomedical research have also been affected. Historically, medicine has always been rooted in scientific racism, which led to the propagation of racist beliefs and prejudices, many still persisting to this day with negative influences on access and the quality of care offered to minority patients (as recently evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, with disproportionate hospitalization and mortality rates for racial and ethnic minorities). With regard to medical research, racial and ethnic minorities were often viewed as easily accessible and expendable experimental subjects. Relatively recent examples include the infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment (1932-1972), Nazi medical experimentation on Jews and other minorities (1942-1945), the case of Henrietta Lacks in 1951, the experimentation of dangerous chemical compounds on the skin of black prisoners in the 1950s-1970s or the exploration of a link between aggressive behavior and genetics in black children in the 1990s. Such discriminatory actions and past historical abuses have created a complex climate of distrust, minority exclusion and widening of racial health disparities that cannot be tackled from only one perspective but necessitates a holistic approach, cognizant of the need for reconciliation and restorative justice.

Therefore, this fall’s Contemporary Debates Seminar will introduce the concept of race as a social construct, introduce the different forms of racism, and explore their effects and the ethical issues they raise in medicine and biomedical research. The seminar will subsequently discuss solutions to ensure that these fields promote health equity and social justice, and debate the need for an antiracist agenda. In these eight interactive sessions, course participants will attend presentations from leading international and national experts, and invited to discuss the ethical issues and proposed solutions at the end of each session.


After successfully completing this seminar series, you will gain a comprehensive understanding of various manifestations of racism, their profound effects on healthcare and research, as well as the ethical dilemmas they pose. Additionally, you will be equipped with insights into antiracist strategies and approaches.


1. Only one unexcused absence will be allowed. An additional absence may be allowed only if satisfactory reasons are provided.

2. Students are expected to write a 1300 words essay (bibliography excluded) on one of the topics presented during the seminar, and include their personal thoughts on the ethical issues raised and the solutions discussed. Essays are to be written in English (Arial, font size 11 and 1.5-line spacing). More details will be provided at the introductory class.

Participation requirements



Suggested readings will be provided a week before each session on ADAM.


USB Gebäude B, Hörsaal 1

Address: Spitalstrasse 21, 4056 Basel

Course dates:


PresenterLecture Name


Aoife Milford and David Azilagbetor,

University of Basel, IBMB

"Racism in Medicine and Research: Navigating Through Wicked Problems: Introductory Lecture"


Prof. Patrick Bodenmann,

UniSanté, Université de Lausanne

"Where are you really from?"

Prof. Charlene Galarneau,

Harvard University, United States 
"Racism & Anti-Racism in U.S. Bioethics"

Prof. Raj  Bhopal,

University of Edinburgh, Scotland

"Does Racism have an Important Impact on the Health Status and Healthcare Of Ethnic Minority Groups?"

Dr. Isabel Straw,

University College London, England

"Algorithmic discrimination and AI Bias in Healthcare"

Dr. Denise Efionayi-Mäder,

Université de Neuchâtel

"Equitable healthcare must address systemic racism"


Dr. Lester Darryl Geneviève,

University of Basel, IBMB

"Precision Health: The rising tide of promised health benefits will not necessarily lift all boats"


Dr. Tanja Gangarova,

German Center for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM), Germany

"Researching Racism through Community-Based Participatory Health Research: Reflections on research methodology and research ethics"