Damage compounded: disparities, distrust, and disparate impact in end-of-life conflict resolution policies

Am J Bioeth. Sep-Oct 2006;6(5):8-12. doi: 10.1080/15265160600856801.


For a little more than a decade, professional organizations and healthcare institutions have attempted to develop guidelines and policies to deal with seemingly intractable conflicts that arise between clinicians and patients (or their proxies) over appropriate use of aggressive life-sustaining therapies in the face of low expectations of medical benefit. This article suggests that, although such efforts at conflict resolution are commendable on many levels, inadequate attention has been given to their potential negative effects upon particular groups of patients/proxies. Based on the well-documented tendency among many African Americans to prefer more aggressive end-of-life medical interventions, it is proposed that the use of institutional policy to break decision making impasse in cases for which aggressive treatment is deemed "medically inappropriate" will fall disproportionately on that group. Finally, it is suggested that the development and application of institutional conflict-resolution policies should be evaluated in the context of historical and current experiences of marginalization and disempowerment, lest such policies exacerbate that experience.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans*
  • Conflict of Interest
  • Cultural Characteristics
  • Decision Making
  • Decision Making, Organizational*
  • Dissent and Disputes
  • Ethics, Clinical
  • Health Policy*
  • Humans
  • Medical Futility*
  • Terminal Care / methods*
  • Trust*
  • United States
  • Vulnerable Populations*
  • Withholding Treatment*