Racist Appearance Standards and the Enhancements That Love Them: Norman Daniels and Skin-Lightening Cosmetics
Bioethics 2011 May; 25(4): 185-91
Darker skin correlates with reduced opportunities and negative health outcomes. Recent discoveries related to the genes associated with skin tone, and the historical use of cosmetics to conform to racist appearance standards, suggest effective skin-lightening products may soon become available. This article examines whether medical interventions of this sort should be permitted, subsidized, or restricted, using Norman Daniels's framework for determining what justice requires in terms of protecting health. I argue that Daniels's expansive view of the requirements of justice in meeting health needs offers some support for recognizing a societal obligation to provide this kind of 'enhancement,' in light of the strong connections between skin tone and health outcomes. On balance, however, Daniels's framework offers compelling reasons to reject insurance coverage for skin-lightening medical interventions, including the likely ineffectiveness of such technologies in mitigating racial health disparities, and the danger that covering skin-lightening enhancements would undermine public support for cooperative schemes that protect health. In fact, justice may require limiting access to these technologies because of their potential to exacerbate the negative effects of racism.
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