A Discourse of Relationships in Bioethics: Patient Autonomy and End-of-Life Decision Making among Elderly Korean Americans

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Abstract

A two-year, multidisciplinary study (N = 800) was conducted on attitudes about end-of-life decision making among elderly individuals in four ethnic groups (African American, European American, Korean American, and Mexican American). On a quantitative survey, Korean Americans reported negative attitudes about the use of life-sustaining technology for themselves but positive attitudes about its use in general. This article reports on an interview with a 79-year-old typical Korean American respondent to explain the contradiction in the survey data. Expectations among elderly Korean Americans include protecting family members with a life-threatening illness from being informed of their diagnosis and prognosis, and doing everything to keep them alive. Two conclusions, one substantive and the other methodological, are drawn: First, the bioethics discourse on individual rights (patientautonomy) is insufficient to explain the preferences of many Korean Americans and must be supplemented with a discourse on relationships. Second, the rigorous use of qualitative, narrative methods clarifies quantitative data and should not be dismissed as “anecdotal.” fbioethics, endoflife decision making, ethnicity, Asian Americans, qualitative methods, narrative]

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