Unequal Death Rates Unequal Medical Care

This past week, I read an article about racism in medicine based on different life expectancies between black and white Americans.  The next day, I got a notice of the death of an Indian friend.  He had taught his native language in a tribal college, was younger than I, and his diabetes had required amputations.

I suspect that diabetes was a greater killer in Europe and Asia as agriculture and cereal grains developed.  Just a hunch – I have enough information for a hypothesis, but inadequate data to prove or disprove it.

I pulled this illustration of varying life expectancies at birth from simplyinsurance the web page has more statistics, and might well be worth reviewing if the topic interests you.  There are differing life expectancies listed by race . . . but women tend to live longer than men as well.  Let’s ignore the sex bias in life expectancy and check the numbers based on race:

86.5 years – Asian-American

82.8 years – Latino

78.9 years – White

76.9 years – Native American

74.6 years – African-American

You will note, the difference in life expectancies shows Latino living longer than white, and Asians living even longer.  Matter of fact, white Americans are smack-dab in the middle. 

The web page offers this explanation:

The 11.9-year gap between Asian American and African American life expectancy. 60% of the deaths in the gap were from heart disease, cancer, homicide, diabetes, and mental health conditions. African-Americans in the US are more likely to die from heart disease White-Americans suicide rates are twice as likely than African-Americans Latest available data is from 2017 – OECD

It’s possible too that they’re right – so far as it goes.  Native American death rates eclipse white rates on both diabetes and suicide.  The blood quantum requirements show that there are a bunch of white folks in the ancestry on most reservations.  Black Americans’ data shows more heart disease and homicide deaths.  When I glance at the “Latino” category, I think back on a colleague with two century-old grandmothers, both from Mexico.  In the US, the surnames make them Latino – in Mexico, speaking Spanish instead of one of the native languages was the decider.

Race, as we look at it, is an untidy classifier.  Jay’s grandmothers are genetically more Indian than Spanish.  A bunch of tribal members whom I know are only 25% Indian by blood quantum.  Some of the tribes are mandating DNA testing to document ancestry.

Dr. James Thompson describes the intellectually lowest 5% of the population as: “High Risk”

“These are the least able 5% of the population. In a town of 10,000 persons these would constitute 500 citizens. Learning is slow, so all intellectual achievements take a fair bit of time. Since all lifespans are finite, and for this group lifespans are shorter than average, many skills are effectively out of reach because it is very unlikely that they will ever be learnt. Of course, some learning always takes place, because everyone can learn, but in their case the pace must be slow, the materials simple, and the steps carefully supervised.

Lifespans are more than 21% shorter than average, and they are more than 50% more likely to be suffering psychological difficulties than average. They are most at risk of all health problems, and all the problems of life.”

So, lifespans are not equal.  Jay Vargas’ grandmothers lived longer lives than my grandmothers.  Women tend to live longer than men.  The bright tend to live longer than the dull.  Asians tend to live longer than American Indians. The world isn’t a fair place – and passing new laws won’t achieve equality of life expectancy.  I can live with that reality.  As you step out today, enjoy the fact that you can still walk . . . Will spent his last years on wheels because of the ravages of diabetes.  I heard humor, not regrets over unfairness.  He continued to enjoy life.  Now, gone away – and I wish for his wife and family that he hadn’t gone so far

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