How Does Culture Affect End-of-Life Planning?

How do different cultures talk about End-of-Life planning? We found two stories on a subject that’s becoming more of an issue as we continue to evolve into a culturally diverse country.
Dorothy Siaw-Asamoah, PhD, ran into an array of cultural complexities when she cared for her terminally ill mother. She is leading a study that may one day help bring “cultural competency” to all health care providers.

After her family struggled to make End-of-Life decisions for her mother, she realized how “different cultural attitudes require a sensitivity to how we address the topic,” said Dr. Siaw-Asamoah.

She believes American values like the right to make our own healthcare choices can conflict with some cultures, which can lead to miscommunication and a difficult End-of-Life.

Here are some areas where cultural diversity can effect End-of-Life planning.

  • Communication Barriers – When a diverse family has to make decisions about a loved one’s care, a lack of communication about the patient’s wishes can lead to futile and expensive treatment
  • Death as a Taboo Subject – Many cultures protect sick family members from knowing their prognosis. In some cultures, talking about death is considered disrespectful or bad luck
  • Collective Decision-Making – In many cultures “collectivism” can cause treatment dilemmas for health care providers who want to involve the individual
  • Pain Relief – Culture can influence whether a patient asks for pain medication. In some cultures, pain is seen as positive, a sign the body is recovering or as a test of one’s faith
  • Advance Directives – Minorities have lower rates of completing Advance Directives due to lack of knowledge and lack of trust in the healthcare industry. Fostering trust with patients is critical

Dr. Siaw-Asamoah thinks by continuing to study these cultural barriers, healthcare professionals will be able to provide a better End-of-Life experience for all individuals.

Read both stories here and here.

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