Cross-cultural similarities and differences in attitudes about advance care planning

J Gen Intern Med. 2002 Jan;17(1):48-57. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.2002.01032.x.


Objective: Culture may have an important impact on a patient's decision whether to perform advance care planning. But the cultural attitudes influencing such decisions are poorly defined. This hypothesis-generating study begins to characterize those attitudes in 3 American ethnic cultures.

Design: Structured, open-ended interviews with blinded content analysis.

Setting: Two general medicine wards in San Antonio, Texas.

Patients: Purposive sampling of 26 Mexican-American, 18 Euro-American, and 14 African-American inpatients.

Measurements and main results: The 3 groups shared some views, potentially reflecting elements of an American core culture. For example, majorities of all groups believed "the patient deserves a say in treatment," and "advance directives (ADs) improve the chances a patient's wishes will be followed." But the groups differed on other themes, likely reflecting specific ethnic cultures. For example, most Mexican Americans believed "the health system controls treatment," trusted the system "to serve patients well," believed ADs "help staff know or implement a patient's wishes," and wanted "to die when treatment is futile." Few Euro Americans believed "the system controls treatment," but most trusted the system "to serve patients well," had particular wishes about life support, other care, and acceptable outcomes, and believed ADs "help staff know or implement a patient's wishes." Most African Americans believed "the health system controls treatment," few trusted the system "to serve patients well," and most believed they should "wait until very sick to express treatment wishes."

Conclusion: While grounded in values that may compose part of American core culture, advance care planning may need tailoring to a patient's specific ethnic views.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Advance Directives / ethnology*
  • African Americans / psychology*
  • Aged
  • Anecdotes as Topic
  • Attitude to Death / ethnology*
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison*
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Decision Making
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mexican Americans / psychology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Planning Techniques
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Terminal Care / psychology*
  • Texas