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As we face our own death, or that of someone close to us, what we want and what we need depends on who we are. And, in this nation of immigrants, our cultural background, the language we speak, the religion we practice all influence our views on dying. The medical establishment has its own ideas on what a "good death" entails that may be very different and even at odds with what a patient may want. Assumptions and stereotyping on the part of doctors and nurses can result in inadequate care and sometimes even cross the line into discrimination.

  • A Chinese immigrant does not want to die at home because his spirit would return, bringing bad luck to the family.
  • A young child is used as a translator to tell her grandmother that she has uterine cancer.
  • A Latino man relies on a faith healer rather than taking the medications provided by his Western doctor.
  • A religious woman feels she does not have to make medical decisions because God will provide the answers.
  • A Zuni woman does not want to talk about death at all.
  • An African-American woman says that her doctor's decisions about what treatment she will get are based on the color of her skin.

Regina is dying of breast cancer. Stereotypes of African-Americans color the treatment she gets from doctors.

These are the issues faced by Americans every day. Solutions are complex and often subtle. While doctors need to understand and respect the values of their patients, patients and families also need to be educated about their rights and options. Communication can be a powerful tool in bridging the gap.

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