Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Book Review: Unequal Treatment

Nechas E, Foley D. Unequal treatment: what you don't know about how women are mistreated by the medical community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Unequal Treatment explores the ways in which women are overlooked or affected by medical treatment and research, with in-depth chapters exploring issues of medical education, clinical research, heart disease, breast cancer, AIDS, aging, mental health, violence, addiction, poverty, maternal and fetal rights, and the sexual abuse of patients. For each of these topics, biases in research and thought affecting women's care are described, along with commentary from experts in the field, women's personal stories, and historical details. Although Unequal Treatment is now outdated, the text serves as an intriguing reference work for anyone interested in women's health or who wonders why a focus on women's health in particular is necessary.

This work does have certain limitations. Although each chapter is packed with references to studies, documents, events, and individuals, the actual citations are not numbered or noted in the text, and appear only as a chapter-by-chapter list of "Key Sources" at the end of the book. This arrangement makes it very difficult for the interested reader to verify the authors' statements or view the cited facts in their original contexts. This is especially troubling when the authors make statements along the lines of a particular inequity which "may be the result of" or "many women experience" - it is unclear to the reader whether these statements are backed up by any research, or are simply matters of opinion. The authors also gloss over certain topics which may have been more in the public consciouness at the time of publication, such as problems with the Dalkon Shield contraceptive device. Finally, Unequal Treatment focuses almost exclusively on the 1980's and 1990's in the United States, ignoring broader historical context and the state of women's health in other nations.

Despite these limitations, Unequal Treatment is an excellent primer on the problems which American women recently experienced and still face with regards to the healthcare system. Sometimes shocking and saddening, this work will be informative and eye-opening for almost any reader.

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