Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 477–481 | Cite as

Understanding patient needs without understanding the patient: the need for complementary use of professional interpreters in end-of-life care

  • Demi KrystallidouEmail author
  • Ignaas Devisch
  • Dominique Van de Velde
  • Peter Pype
Short Communication


High-quality doctor-patient communication in end-of-life care results in better quality of life for patients. In linguistically and culturally diverse societies, language discordant consultations become daily practice, leading to difficulties in eliciting patient preferences toward end-of-life care. Although family members invariably act as informal interpreters, this may cause some ethical dilemmas. We present a case of a palliative patient whose son acted as an interpreter. This case generated a triple- layered ethical dilemma: (i) how to safeguard patient autonomy against paternalistic interventions by family members, (ii) how to respect the relational context in which patient autonomy can be realized, and (iii) how to respect the ethno-cultural values of the patient and his family. These issues are being discussed and reflected upon within the framework shared decision making involving informal- and professional interpreters. The complementary use of professional interpreters next to family members acting as informal interpreters is recommended.


Patient needs Interpreters Communication Patient autonomy Agency Shared decision making 



No funding was received for this work.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of ArtsUniversity of LeuvenAntwerpBelgium
  2. 2.Department of Primary Care and Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium
  3. 3.Department of Rehabilitation Sciences and Physiotherapy, Faculty of Medicine and Health SciencesGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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