American College Of Surgeons - Inspiring Quality: Highest Standards, Better Outcomes

American College of Surgeons Call to Action on Racism as a Public Health Crisis: An Ethical Imperative

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic upends our world and continues to take its extraordinary toll on human life, our nation experiences the horror of yet another senseless killing of a Black person by the police. At the same time as we are witnessing the disproportionate ravages caused by COVID-19, especially in African-American and other disenfranchised communities, we continue to experience the compounding effects of systemic racism that prompted the recent killing of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd.

At a time when people are desperately seeking a vaccine to allow them to shed their “protective face masks” and return to a semblance of normalcy, unfortunately, African Americans continue to confront, all too frequently, mistreatment or brutality by some law enforcement officers, which has given rise to more than an aspirational slogan, but rather an urgent cry: “Black Lives Matter.” Mr. Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, MN, has brought outraged protesters from diverse backgrounds to the streets of many cities and has resulted in a national and international outcry for justice, an end to police violence against Black men and women, and a long overdue correction of this country’s deep racial inequalities.

These unprecedented crises call for enlightened and innovative leadership, inspired intervention, and compassionate service from all members of the American College of Surgeons (ACS).

We must work arduously to accelerate the elimination of the unacceptable inequities that pervade our health care system and our world at large. As the COVID-19 pandemic has painfully illustrated, these inequities, fostered by our society’s racism, keep African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities (Indigenous, Latinx) from receiving the accessible, high-quality care that every American deserves. Structural racism, manifested by deep inequities in housing, employment income, and education, contributes to a greater prevalence of underlying chronic conditions.

Moreover, as noted by the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine), even after adjusting for education and economic status, unequal treatment resulting from racial discrimination exacerbates health disparities. The result is a higher death rate from coronavirus infection and many other conditions. Police brutality against people of color further endangers the well-being, health, and lives of a great number of our patients. Correcting these injustices now, by denouncing racism and its deleterious effects on the health of Black and Brown people, is among the most important missions of the ACS.

As an organization that strives to inspire quality and create the highest standards and outcomes for the surgical community, the ACS is committed to creating a more just and inclusive environment for everyone. Therefore, we will continue to work to ensure the development of a culturally competent and diverse surgical workforce to meet the health needs of our nation. We will continue to pursue our research and public health initiatives addressing health disparities. In addition, we will accelerate our advocacy efforts to bring much-needed legislative reform to correct factors that negatively affect the health of our patients and communities in order to ensure better outcomes for all human beings, regardless of ethnicity, race, gender, creed, religion, nationality, or sexual preference.