Author(s): Jill Klessig, MD

Date Authored: September 1, 1992

Copyright: EthnoMed has been granted permission from the Western Journal of Medicine to post this article on our web site. This material may be protected by Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S. Code).


Withdrawing life support is always difficult. When patients and health professionals are from different ethnic backgrounds, value systems that form the basis for such decisions may conflict. Many cultural groups do not place the same emphasis on patient autonomy and self-determination that Western society does and find the idea of terminating life support offensive. Although physicians should never assume patients will respond in a particular way because of their ethnic background, issues of life support should be discussed in a culturally sensitive way. African-American, Chinese, Jewish, Iranian, Filipino, Mexican-American, and Korean patients were surveyed about their views on life support. The findings reported here, although not meant to be definitive, should add to health professionals’ understanding about diverse beliefs around life-and-death issues. By becoming aware of this diversity of beliefs, health professionals can avoid the damage to the physician-patient relationship caused by conflicting value systems.

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Article reprinted with permission from Western Journal of Medicine. By Jill Klessig, MD. West J Med, Sept. 1992; 157:316-322.

We are grateful to the Western Journal of Medicine for their cooperation and willingness to make this information available to the EthnoMed audience.