The influence of physician race, age, and gender on physician attitudes toward advance care directives and preferences for end-of-life decision-making

J Am Geriatr Soc. 1999 May;47(5):579-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.1999.tb02573.x.


Objective: To determine whether physicians' preferences for end-of-life decision-making differ between blacks and whites in the same pattern as patient preferences, with blacks being more likely than whites to prefer life-prolonging treatments.

Design: A mailed survey.

Setting and participants: American Medical Association (AMA) and National Medical Association (NMA) databases. To enrich the sample of black physicians, we targeted physicians in the AMA database practicing in high minority area zip codes and graduates of the traditionally black medical schools.

Main outcome measures: Self-reported physician attitudes toward end-of-life decision-making and preference of treatment for themselves in persistent vegetative state or organic brain disease compared by race, controlling for age and gender.

Results: The 502 physicians (28%) who returned the questionnaire included 280 white and 157 black physicians. With regard to attitudes toward patient care, 58% of white physicians agreed that tube-feeding in terminally ill patients is "heroic," but only 28 % of black physicians agreed with the statement (P < .001). White physicians were more likely than black physicians to find physician-assisted suicide an acceptable treatment alternative (36.6% vs 26.5% of black physicians) (P < .05). With regard to the physicians preferences for future treatment of themselves for the persistent vegetative state scenario, black physicians were more than six times more likely than white physicians to request aggressive treatments (cardiopulmonary resuscitation, mechanical ventilation, or artificial feeding) for themselves (15.4% vs 2.5%) (P < .001). White physicians were almost three times as likely to want physician-assisted suicide (29.3% vs 11.8%) (P < .001) in this scenario. For a state of brain damage with no terminal illness, the majority of all physicians did not want aggressive treatment, but black physicians were nearly five times more likely than white physicians (23.0% vs 5.0%) (P < .001) to request these treatments. White physicians, on the other hand, were more than twice as likely to request physician-assisted suicide (22.5% vs 9.9%), P < .001 in this scenario.

Conclusions: Physicians preferences for end-of-life treatment follow the same pattern by race as patient preferences, making it unlikely that low socioeconomic status or lack of familiarity with treatments account for the difference. Self-denoted race may be a surrogate marker for other, as yet undefined, factors. The full spectrum of treatment preferences should be considered in development of guidelines for end-of-life treatment in our diverse society.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Advance Care Planning*
  • Advance Directives* / psychology
  • Advance Directives* / statistics & numerical data
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Attitude to Health
  • Black or African American* / psychology
  • Black or African American* / statistics & numerical data
  • Brain Diseases
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians* / psychology
  • Physicians* / statistics & numerical data
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians' / statistics & numerical data*
  • Resuscitation Orders* / psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Stress, Psychological
  • Suicide, Assisted* / psychology
  • Suicide, Assisted* / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States
  • Value of Life
  • White People* / psychology
  • White People* / statistics & numerical data
  • Withholding Treatment*