East Meets West: Cross-Cultural Perspective in End-of-Life Decision Making From Indian and German Viewpoints
Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 2008 June; 11(2): 165-174
Culture creates the context within which individuals experience life and comprehend moral meaning of illness, suffering and death. The ways the patient, family and the physician communicate and make decisions in the end-of-life care are profoundly influenced by culture. What is considered as right or wrong in the healthcare setting may depend on the socio-cultural context. The present article is intended to delve into the cross-cultural perspectives in ethical decision making in the end-of-life scenario. We attempt to address the dynamics of the roles of patient, family and physician therein across two countries from East and West, namely, India and Germany. In India, where illness is more a shared family affair than an individual incident, a physician is likely to respect the family's wishes and may withhold the 'naked truth' about the diagnosis of a fatal disease to the patient. In Germany, a physician is legally required to inform the patient about the disease. In India, advance directive being virtually non-existent, the family acts as the locus of the decision-making process, taking into account the economic cost of available medical care. In Germany, advance directive is regarded as mandatory and healthcare is covered by insurance. Family and the physician appear to play larger roles in ethical decision making for patients in India than for those in Germany, who place greater emphasis on autonomy of the individual patient. Our study explicates how culture matters in ethical decision-making and why the bioethical discourse is necessary in the concrete realities of the socio-cultural context. To explore the possibility of finding a common ground of morality across different cultures while acknowledging and respecting cultural diversity, thus remains a formidable challenge for the bioethicists.
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