Your editorial "Unhealthy Suspicion: A Study Reveals Harsh Attitudes Toward Medicine" (Feb. 6) highlights our scientific finding that black parents were more distrusting of medical research than white parents. Distrust may be a barrier for enrollment of black children into clinical research.
However, calling the response of black parents the "... height of irresponsibility -- and superstition" is offensive and misses the point. Racial discrimination in medicine and research would be easy to ignore were it not so well documented. In 2002, researchers documented that African-American patients, even with the same insurance coverage, income and disease, receive worse medical care than their white counterparts. These are the facts, not superstitious conspiracy theories.
Here in Pittsburgh, as long as African Americans live sicker and die younger than their white neighbors, there is reason for their legitimate discontent.
Increasing the diversity of the health professions work force could help create a more trustworthy system for African-American patients. However, health professionals and institutions must also be vigilant in ensuring that all patients, regardless of income, race, sexual orientation or religion, are treated equally.
Finally, our finding that 50 percent of white and 67 percent of black parents "distrust medical research" extends concern beyond African-American parents. Academic medical centers, in Pittsburgh and elsewhere, must be more effective in educating both black and white communities about the value of participating in biomedical research. Health researchers must become more effective in translating our research into services that can improve the health of all our families. This approach will go a long way toward improving trust.
STEPHEN B. THOMAS, Ph.D.
Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh
KUMARAVEL RAJAKUMAR, M.D.
Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC