Sunday, March 14, 2021
By Khala Turner, 2L at St. Louis University School of Law
Amongst a unification of chaos and denial, society has been able to parse through the racial disparities that should be considered a violation of basic human rights in the aftermath of COVID-19. Human rights that are noted in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, such as the rights to life, liberty and security of person; just and favorable conditions to work; and a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing. These human rights should not only be protected during COVID-19, but also should have been well established protections beforehand. As the number of people in Black communities across the globe who are diagnosed with COVID-19 continues to rise, the acts of disparity towards people of African descents grew rapidly. The ease and comfort of disparate treatment shows that racial inequity has unsuccessfully been challenged.
The risks for contracting COVID for racial and ethnic minority groups are higher due to factors such as occupation, housing, and discrimination as listed by the CDC. Growing and disproportionate unemployment rates for some racial and ethnic minority groups due to COVID-19 may lead to greater risk of eviction and homelessness, as well. When studies show disparities among racial and ethnic minority groups in COVID-19 testing, government officials and institutions should take responsibility to ensure no possible additional disparate treatment will occur.
Racial and ethnic minorities should be concerned with the current approach to vaccine testing as well, considering historical events. During the search for medical knowledge, minorities have been historically exploited to get answers and used as Guinea pigs for testing purposes repeatedly. Consider the cases of Henrietta Lacks and the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. Research on Lacks’ cells led to the development of the polio vaccine, cloning, gene mapping, and in vitro fertilization. Unfortunately Lacks never knew that her cells were taken for research purposes and her family wasn’t informed until twenty-five years after her death. Similarly, in the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, there was no evidence that researchers informed the subjects of the study or its real purpose. The men were misled and not been given all of the facts required to provide informed consent. Throughout these experiments when consent and transparency were disconnected from subjects, authorities have displayed that all citizens do not have a right to life, liberty and security of person when medical research is involved.
Comparable to HeLa Cells and the Tuskegee Experiment research, COVID-19 has already exploited minority communities by allowing employees to expose themselves by performing essential work and destroying the right to a just and favorable condition to work. In the midst of COVID-19, authorities have released scarce means of financial support; institutions have exposed their foundational contributions to systemic racism as they do not place moratoriums on expenses and plan to send children back to educational facilities and as time progresses, many more issues that highlight racial disparities continue to unravel. While unemployment rates continue to rise, those that are forced to work to ensure that they are not evicted, means for electricity or water are not eliminated and money for food is constant then the exploitation begins to increase.
As minority communities are exploited, lives are lost, families are broken, and diseases run rampant causing more harm than good, and we must consider the generational issues that are the result of future “beneficial” medical research. Black communities have cried for help when it comes to medical treatment due to authorities dismantling trust with the lack of transparency. While looking for a COVID-19 vaccine, there should have been a shift whereas the right to life, liberty and security of person are protected with consent and transparency. The best method to protect minority and low-income communities is to allow community members similar opportunities to actively participate in medical facilities. A portion of the underrepresentation problem stems from the under-supply of minority students from public schools who are academically prepared to succeed as undergraduates and thus are able to apply successfully to medical schools.
The fundamental human rights that need protection are those that are feared by many, such as losing their adequate living standards for health and wellbeing or the possibility of being incarcerated due to truancy laws being broken by not sending their children to mandatory schooling. The fear of survival in communities where many are living paycheck to paycheck should not outweigh the fear of contracting a life-threatening disease that destroys communities much faster due to underlying systemic racist conditions. These human rights efforts should no longer begin when disparate deaths in minority communities and exposure to the virus continue to rise but should begin immediately. Authorities should be willing to review statistics and take proactive steps to ensure that exposure is low, transparency is available, and financial resources are provided.
To eliminate fears and protect society, months ago, governments should have immediately re-implemented mandatory lockdowns, expanded federal and state support for the unemployed to cover living expenses, and eliminated all non-essential travel, business and extracurricular activities. As we have seen in the last few weeks, the Biden Administration has taken small steps towards victory by passing the American Rescue Plan Act. These implementations are all important to the Black family, the minority and low-income communities. In the interim, authorities must work to ensure that healthcare costs, medical needs in all states and expenses related to alleviate COVID-19 through vaccination plans in medical facilitates are affordable or free. The initial perception behind the COVID-19 vaccination was to ensure minority communities were given the opportunity to receive the vaccine as the media questioned the lack of excitement from Black communities to sign up for it. Sadly, the socioeconomic disparities continue across the country as wealthier communities are gaining access to opportunities to vaccinate quicker than others. As people continue to travel from city to city to gain access to the vaccine, the hopes for the Biden Administration’s plan to have every consenting adult vaccinated by May 1st are high. It is imperative that regulations are set in place to guide the actions of all State governments and vaccine locations.
In short, it is now time to continue overseeing actions and implement laws that will protect the human rights of minority communities such as being free from unfair treatment in housing and medical opportunities, and discrimination in education as children return to school. While these laws and policies may be perceived as infringing upon some people’s rights, this has never been the crux of the argument when infringing upon the rights of minorities or any low-income persons. If there is any time to continue to see a positive change in society, now is the time.