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Ann Intern Med. 2002 May 7;136(9):673-9.

Strategies for culturally effective end-of-life care.

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Stanford University Center for Biomedical Ethics, 701 Welch Road, Suite 1105, Palo Alto, CA 94304, USA.


As a result of profound worldwide demographic change, physicians will increasingly care for patients from cultural backgrounds other than their own. Differences in beliefs, values, and traditional health care practices are of particular relevance at the end of life. Health care providers and patients and families may not have shared understandings of the meaning of illness or death and may not agree on the best strategies to plan for the end of life or to alleviate pain and suffering. Good end-of-life care may be complicated by disagreements between physicians and patients, difficult interactions, or decisions the physician does not understand. Challenges may result from cultural differences between the patient's background and traditional medical practice. Values so ingrained in physicians as to be unquestioned may be alien to patients from different backgrounds. Physicians need to be sensitive to cultural differences and to develop the skills necessary to work with patients from diverse backgrounds. Community and cultural ties provide a source of great comfort as patients and families prepare for death. This paper describes two cases that raise issues about cross-cultural end-of-life practice and suggests strategies for negotiating common problems. Physicians should assess the cultural background of each patient and inquire about values that may affect care at the end of life. They should become aware of the specific beliefs and practices of the populations they serve, always remembering to inquire whether an individual patient adheres to these cultural beliefs. Attention to cultural difference enables the physician to provide comprehensive and compassionate palliative care at the end of life.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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