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End of Life Health Care: Race, Poverty, Gender, Disability and Elderly Discrimination

Posted: 9 Aug 2010 Last revised: 6 Mar 2014

Constance Fain

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: August 9, 2010


Race, poverty, gender, disability and age can have a serious impact on end of life health care decisions. Minorities, the poor, women, the disabled and the elderly are especially vulnerable populations that are susceptible to discrimination, abuse, negligence, or disinterest at the hands of physicians and other medical workers. Thus, they are less likely to receive satisfactory health care. For instance, some African Americans are afraid their doctors may try to terminate life support prematurely because of their race. It has also been reported that both African Americans and Hispanics have experienced more deficiencies in palliative care than whites. Women’s end of life wishes may not be respected, such as where a parent petitions to disconnect life support for his/her incompetent daughter. One source revealed that judges have ruled in favor of female patients less than fifteen percent of the time compared with seventy-five percent in the case of male patients in instances where parents have petitioned to terminate life support equipment for their incompetent minor or adult children. Another source indicated that competent women’s requests for aid in dying are rejected by physicians more often than men’s requests because women are viewed as irrational. Scare tactics have been used on disabled persons and the elderly, for instance, where an assisted suicide advocate described a person’s impairments in a most demeaning manner thereby implying: “Better Dead than Disabled.” It is clear that some populations in our country are regarded as less important than others; thus, their health care preferences are often ignored or rejected.

Suggested Citation

Fain, Constance, End of Life Health Care: Race, Poverty, Gender, Disability and Elderly Discrimination (August 9, 2010). Available at SSRN:

Constance Fain (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

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