Hospice Care: A Cultural Taboo

Hospice care is not only a difficult subject but a major cultural issue.   For most Americans, the idea of hospice is, of course, stressful but still something that can be dealt with in a frank and open manner.  What many do not realize is that in most cultures, the idea of hospice care does not even exist or cannot be addressed openly.  To see these differences one need look no further than the major minority groups of Houston: Hispanic, Vietnamese, and Arabic.

In Hispanic culture, death is somewhat of a taboo subject.  Hispanics believe that discussions of death actually do more harm to the patient than good.  Consequently, it is not discussed as openly as in non-Hispanic culture.  Also, most Hispanics prefer to hear bad news from their family members instead of the doctor.  Therefore, the primary physician needs to be mindful of this cultural aspect, when discussing the subject.

In Vietnamese culture, even the idea of putting a relative in hospice care is relatively unthinkable.  It is customary for Vietnamese children to take care of their parents or sick elders.  To place a relative in hospice is viewed as disrespectful.  Health care providers must keep this in mind should the issue arise and stress the importance of professional care.

Finally, in Arabic culture there are some similarities to that of Hispanics.  While Arabs do not like to remind the patient of impending death, they are obligated to ease the patient’s pain.  Therefore, hospice care is acceptable when put in the proper context.  Consequently, if hospice care is needed, doctors should stress the importance of pain reduction over the subject of death.

While hospice care is a very sensitive subject, with just a modicum of cultural awareness any health care provider can overcome cultural boundaries to provide quality care.

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