Self-Determination, the Right to Die, and Culture: A Literature Review
McCormick, Andrew J
Social work 2011 Apr; 56(2): 119-28
Self-determination is a primary ethical principle underlying social work practice in health care settings. Since the 1970s, a right-to-die movement that shares the social work commitment to self-determination has grown and influences end-of-life care decisions. However, the role of culture is notably absent in discussions of the right to die. A literature review was conducted to explore self-determination and the role of culture in the context of the history of the right-to-die movement. A total of 54 articles met the criteria for inclusion in the review. Of the total, 21 related to self-determination, and 12 related to ethnicity and culture at the end of life. A history based on the review of the right-to-die movement is presented. The review found that social workers support passively hastening death and that views of self-determination are affected by both law and culture. In response, social workers will face three tasks: (1) becoming more public in their support for client self-determination as an important standard in end-of-life care, (2) being more explicit in support of diverse cultural traditions in end-of-life decision making, and (3) expanding their traditional educational and bridging roles between families and medical personnel.
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