Medical care at the end of life: views of African American patients in an urban hospital

J Palliat Med. 2005 Jun;8(3):593-602. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2005.8.593.


Background: Although one goal of end-of-life care is to honor the wishes and needs of patients, little research has been done to characterize what is important to seriously ill African American patients at the end of life.

Objective: To characterize the views of seriously ill African American patients toward end-of- life care.

Design: A qualitative study using semistructured, in-depth interviews.

Setting and participants: Patients in a large, urban, public hospital who are facing a serious illness.

Results: Twenty-three African American patients were interviewed. Although most acknowledged a point at which they would want to cease aggressive care, some equated this with giving up. Most subjects expressed that the end of life was in God's hands. Many expressed a concern to be free of pain and suffering. Few saw a significant role for the physician at the end of life. Some had expressed their wishes for care to a family member. Others thought such discussions were unnecessary because a family member would make decisions or because death was not imminent. Subjects raised concerns about trust in the physician and the burden of end-of-life discussions.

Conclusions: African Americans in an urban, public hospital who are facing a severe illness have clear desires for care at the end of life and are willing to discuss their views at length. Such discussions should explore patients' desire for aggressive care, consider spiritual views and the importance of family in end-of-life decisions, and consider that some patients will not believe such discussions are necessary.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Attitude to Death
  • Female
  • Georgia
  • Hospitals, Urban
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Terminal Care*