Background: Although it has received little study, gender may significantly affect patients' attitudes about advance care planning.
Methods: We asked 26 Mexican American (14 male, 12 female), 18 European American (7 male, 11 female), and 14 African American (7 male, 7 female) inpatients for their attitudes about advance care planning and dying. Coders of different ethnicities and genders performed independent, blinded content analyses of responses.
Results: The interviews identified 40 themes. Five, including "Advance directives (ADs) improve the chances a patient's wishes will be followed," characterized both genders of all 3 ethnic groups. Although no individual themes distinguished the genders across ethnic groups, 3 meta-themes--or clusters of related themes--did. Men's end-of-life wishes addressed functional outcome alone, but women's wishes addressed other factors, too. Men felt disempowered by the health system, but women felt empowered. Men feared harm from the system, but women anticipated benefit. Each ethnic group expressed these gender differences uniquely. For example, most Mexican American men preferred death to disability, believed "the health care system controls treatment," and wanted no "futile" life support. In contrast, most Mexican American women expressed wishes only about care other than life support (especially about when and where they wanted to die), believed ADs "help staff know...(such) wishes," and trusted the system to "honor (written) ADs."
Conclusion: Core cultural attitudes observed in both genders of 3 ethnic groups may extend to all Americans. Although core attitudes may support advance care planning for many Americans, health professionals should consider tailoring it to other, ethnic- and gender-specific attitudes.