Attitudes toward end-of-life medical treatment vary by ethnic group and gender, a new study says.
The study was conducted to help doctors improve their treatment of patients who are terminally ill. The study, which was conducted by the Veteran Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System, appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.
The results of the study show black and Hispanic men are most accepting of assisted suicide, although Hispanic men prefer to call it “assisted dying.”
The study also showed that Arab Muslims and Arab Christians are against going to nursing homes. One Arab participant said it was the “most awful thing that can happen,” adding that there are no nursing homes in Baghdad. Arab participants said that in their culture, family members take care of their elders and whole neighborhoods get involved when someone is dying. Many also said they disapprove of extending life artificially.
Black women also said they would undergo extensive medical treatment if it would prolong their – a marked difference from black and Hispanic men who said they would prefer assisted suicide.
“Women felt more strongly that everything should be done to keep you alive because it’s up to God to make the decision,” said Medical School research investigator Sonia Duffy, lead author of the report.
Duffy said men are more likely to agree with assisted suicide.
“I think that men are more worried about being a burden to their family and want to maintain their dignity,” Duffy said.
Blacks are the most comfortable with staying in a hospital or nursing home, and said they prefer that their family not take care of them.
Frances Jackson, an associate professor of nursing at Oakland University who also worked on the study, said whites were more of a “mixed bag” and that trends were not evident within the group.
Still, most whites said they did not want their families to take care of them, but would prefer to die at home. Whites were open to most types of end-of-life care, such as feeding tubes and dialysis, but not life support.
Arabs indicated that they would not want doctors to tell a family member if he or she had a terminal illness, but they also said if they were diagnosed with a life-threatening disease they would want to know.
The report said that this is a problem for healthcare providers who are responsible for telling patients the truth about their health. Yet the report said healthcare providers can work with the family to slowly reveal the news to the patient to alleviate these concerns.
Fourth-year medical student Charles Draznin said he has not been taught about cultural sensitivity toward end-of-life treatments, but that the results from the study would be useful.
“I think I would have a better understanding of what their preferences were if I had more knowledge of medical beliefs and values and of multiple other cultures,” he said.
The study included 73 focus group participants of different ethnicities including Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Hispanics, blacks and whites. They were all 50 or older.
Jackson said other ethnic groups such as Native Americans and Asians were not included because funding for the study was cut short. Jackson said that the groups chosen represented “90 percent of the population of Southeastern Michigan.”