Every individual has the right to receive adequate health care. It is an inalienable human right recognized in a vast number of international agreements and one of its characteristics is that this right must be enjoyed without discrimination. Although it is alleged that we are currently living in a more equitable society between men and women, I strongly believe that there still is gender bias in health care. This bias exists, first of all, since medicine doctors know less about women’s bodies. Also, there are still misdiagnoses based on symptoms. And finally, there is evidence of gender disparity in medical treatment.
Because we live in a men’s world, there are some health misconceptions about women’s bodies. And this happens because medical research is conducted on males. Females are underrepresented in medical research. For instance, studies on AIDS treatment frequently omit women, the fastest growing infected population. An investigation of the possible relationship between caffeine and heart disease involved 45,589 male research subjects. Most amazing is the pilot project on the impact of obesity on breast and uterine cancer conducted--you guessed it--solely on men. (Dresser, 1992)
Using only men in medical research denies benefits to women in health care. Also, this exclusion goes against the principle of beneficence, “biomedical research should be designed to maximize benefit and minimize harm” (Dresser, 1992).
When it comes to inexplicable, chronic pain, diagnosis is often delayed or misdiagnosed. Women fight to get doctors to believe them. The reason is the lack of research mentioned before. Heart attacks on women for example are often missed. Cardiovascular diseases are the number 1 cause of death globally (World Health Organization, 2017), and according the American Heart Association is the number 1 cause of death in women of the United States. The failure to distinguish the occurrence of heart disease in women and the different set of symptoms in women during a heart attack contribute to delays and misdiagnosis, “women with heart attack symptoms were less likely to receive aspirin, be resuscitated, or be transported to the hospital in ambulances using lights and sirens than were men” (The Lancet, 2019). The historic failings of cardiology, for instance, to take a balanced approach to research have led to fundamental flaws in the care for women with heart disease and has cost the lives of many women.
Furthermore, gender disparity has been observed in some treatments. In a study conducted by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, it was demonstrated that women waited longer to receive their analgesia, even though they showed similar acute abdominal pain (Chen, et al., 2008, p.415). Similarly, studies have confirmed that gender disparities are real.
Critically ill women 50 years older were less likely than critically ill men to be admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) and to receive potentially life-saving interventions, and they were more likely to die in ICU or in hospital. (Bierman, 2007, p. 1520) Sex disparities demonstrate that women are not receiving an effective treatment or intervention. In conclusion, gender bias still happens in our society.
- Bierman, A. S. (2007, December 4). Sex matters: gender disparities in quality and outcomes of health. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 177(12), 1520-1521.
- The Lancet. (2019) Cardiology's problem women. The Lancet, 393(10175), 959.
- Chen, E. H., Shofer, F. S., Dean, A. J., Hollander, J. E., Baxt, W. G., Robey, J. L. & Mills, A. M. (2008). Gender disparity in analgesic treatment of emergency department patients with acute abdominal pain. Academic Emergency Medicine, 15(5), 414-418.
- Dresser, R. (1992). Wanted: single, white male for medical research. The Hastings Center Report, 22(1).
- World Health Organization. (2017). Cardiovascular diseases. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/cardiovascular-diseases-(cvds)