Blacks more likely to opt for life-sustaining measures at end of life

May 28, 2009

When faced with a terminal illness, African-American seniors were two times more likely than whites to say they would want life-prolonging treatments, according to a University of Pittsburgh study available online and published in the June issue of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The study, led by Amber E. Barnato, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medical, clinical and translational science and , University of Pittsburgh, was based on interviews and surveys with more than 2,800 Medicare beneficiaries 65 years and older, making it the largest nationally representative sample of U.S. seniors' end-of-life treatment preferences. Overall, the majority of Medicare beneficiaries surveyed preferred not to die in a hospital or to receive life-sustaining measures at the end of life.

During interviews, study respondents were asked about their treatment preferences in the event they were diagnosed with a terminal illness and had less than a year to live. More African-Americans (18 percent) than whites (8 percent) reported that they would prefer to die in a hospital. African-Americans (28 percent) also were more likely than whites (15 percent) to report that they would opt for life-prolonging drugs, even if the treatment made them feel worse all of the time.

Only 49 percent of African-Americans compared to 74 percent of whites responded that they would want potentially life-shortening palliative drugs (for pain and comfort only). Lastly, when asked whether they would opt for mechanical ventilation to extend their lives for a week, 24 percent of African-Americans said they would, compared to 13 percent of whites. When mechanical ventilation would extend life by one month, this percentage rose to 36 percent in African-Americans, compared to 21 percent in whites.

"We collected detailed information about personal and that might explain the relationship between African-Americans and preference for more intensive end-of-life treatment. An overly optimistic view of the ability of mechanical ventilation, a breathing machine, to save lives and return people to their normal activities explained some, but not all, of this difference," said Dr. Barnato.

Although the study looked at differences in treatment preferences by race, Dr. Barnato cautions it should not be viewed as an invitation to generalize. "As doctors, we should ask each patient and family about their goals of treatment, then offer the treatments that meet those goals, rather than making assumptions about treatment preferences based on race," she said.

Source: University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences (news : web)

Explore further: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge arrives in North Korea

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Minorities, whites get equal care in hospitals

Mar 11, 2008

A University of Maryland study of whether people receive different quality of hospital care because of their race or ethnicity found that when whites and minorities are admitted to a hospital for the same reason, they receive ...

Recommended for you

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge arrives in North Korea

Aug 31, 2014

It's pretty hard to find a novel way to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by now, but two-time Grammy-winning rapper Pras Michel, a founding member of the Fugees, has done it—getting his dousing in the center ...

Cold cash just keeps washing in from ALS challenge

Aug 28, 2014

In the couple of hours it took an official from the ALS Association to return a reporter's call for comment, the group's ubiquitous "ice bucket challenge" had brought in a few million more dollars.

Medtronic spends $350M on another European deal

Aug 27, 2014

U.S. medical device maker Medtronic is building stronger ties to Europe, a couple months after announcing a $42.9 billion acquisition that involves moving its main executive offices across the Atlantic, where it can get a ...

User comments : 0