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.