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Cultural differences in end-of-life care

Vincent, Jean-Louis MD, PhD, FCCM

Scientific Reviews

The exact time of death for many intensive care unit patients is increasingly preceded by an end-of-life decision. Such decisions are fraught with ethical, religious, moral, cultural, and legal difficulties. Key questions surrounding this issue include the difference between withholding and withdrawing, when to withhold/withdraw, who should be involved in the decision-making process, what are the relevant legal precedents, etc. Cultural variations in attitude to such issues are perhaps expected between continents, but key differences also exist on a more local basis, for example, among the countries of Europe. Physicians need to be aware of the potential cultural differences in the attitudes not only of their colleagues, but also of their patients and families. Open discussion of these issues and some change in our attitude toward life and death are needed to enable such patients to have a pain-free, dignified death.

From the Department of Intensive Care, Erasme University Hospital, Free University of Brussels, Brussels, Belgium.

Address requests for reprints to: Prof. Jean-Louis Vincent, Department of Intensive Care, Erasme University Hospital, Route de Lennik 808, B-1070 Brussels, Belgium. E-mail:

© 2001 by the Society of Critical Care Medicine and Lippincott Williams & Wilkins