Bioethics Blogs

Improving End-of-Life Care for African-Americans through Advance Care Planning in Partnership with Faith Communities

Leslie McNolty

The Center for Practical Bioethics has worked on end-of-life issues and advance care planning for more than three decades. Over the years, we’ve been enlightened and encouraged by the six reports that the National Academy of Medicine has issued on palliative and end-of-life care in the USA. These reports clearly establish that palliative care and hospice are essential to address suffering and quality care for the seriously and terminally ill. Research also shows that improving shared decision-making processes, such as advance care planning, provide a path to greater satisfaction for families experiencing the death of a loved one. We know that individuals who complete advance directive documents are more likely to have their preferences for end-of-life care respected — particularly the preference to die at home in hospice care. 

We also noticed with increasing alarm that African-Americans typically do not share in the benefits of advance care planning, palliative care and hospice care to the same extent that white Americans do. Statistics from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization consistently show severe underutilization of hospice by African-Americans – whites make up more than 80% of hospice utilization on a national level, with African-American utilization at about 8%. This disparity in hospice and palliative care utilization is particularly striking because African-Americans die at excessive levels from chronic diseases. 

Barriers and Opportunities

Unfortunately, there are significant barriers to implementing advance care planning tools in African-American communities. Many harbor a deep distrust of the traditional healthcare system stemming from egregious ethical violations in the past. Furthermore, African-Americans, who according to Pew Research Studies are know the most religious racial group in the USA, have significant religious concerns about advance care planning.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.