Older African Americans are less likely to have a plan for their end-of-life care than their white counterparts, a discrepancy that leaves blacks with less control over their final health care choices.
In the first national analysis of racial discrepancies in end-of-life planning, the National Center for Health Statistics reported Jan. 6 that African Americans in home health care and nursing homes were half as likely as whites to have an advance directive such as a living will or a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order.
Experts say this disparity means African Americans are more likely to endure unwanted medical procedures and experience unnecessary pain and family strife.
"When people don't have advance directives, they are more vulnerable to having decisions made that do not allow for a dignified death," says Etienne Phipps, director of the Center for Urban Health Policy and Research at the Albert Einstein Healthcare Network in Philadelphia. It's also very difficult for families to take on the burden of making decisions at the end of life, says Phipps.