Attitudes toward life-sustaining interventions among ambulatory black and white patients

Ethn Dis. Autumn 2006;16(4):914-9.


Objectives: The purpose of this study was to evaluate racial differences in preference for life-sustaining interventions in the context of various physical and mental health scenarios.

Design: Data were collected by using an investigator-administered survey.

Setting and patients: Consecutive patients who self-identified as African American or Caucasian were recruited from two private primary care practices in Rochester, New York.

Main outcome measures: Patients were asked to decide whether they would accept or decline life-sustaining intervention in eight scenarios, each involving a different combination of mental and physical disability. Information on religiousness, family integration, and experience with creating a healthcare proxy was also collected, as these variables were believed to be potential confounders of the relationship between race and preference.

Results: Data from 77 patients (50 Black patients and 27 White patients) were analyzed. In multivariate log linear modeling, race was a significant predictor of preference for life-sustaining therapy, even after controlling for degree of mental and physical disability. Religiousness, family integration, and experience with creating a healthcare proxy did not explain racial differences in preference for life-sustaining therapy.

Conclusions: We have shown that ambulatory Black patients aged > or = 50 years are more likely than White patients to prefer life-sustaining care, and that these preferences persist across a wide range of mental and physical disabilities. This attitude conflicts with the prevailing ethic regarding end-of-life care, and Black patients and their families may consequently find have difficulty obtaining medical care that is consistent with their cultural values and beliefs. Policy decisions regarding end-of-life care must reflect a culturally diverse perspective.

MeSH terms

  • African Americans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Aged
  • Attitude to Death / ethnology*
  • Confounding Factors, Epidemiologic
  • Cross-Cultural Comparison
  • Decision Making
  • Disabled Persons
  • European Continental Ancestry Group / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Support Care*
  • Linear Models
  • Living Wills
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • New York / epidemiology
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Proxy
  • Resuscitation Orders