Journal of Urban Health

, Volume 78, Issue 1, pp 59–71 | Cite as

Bioethics in a different tongue: The case of truth-telling

  • Leslie J. BlackhallEmail author
  • Gelya Frank
  • Sheila Murphy
  • Vicki Michel
Special Feature: Urban Bioethics


After a survey of 800 seniors from four different ethnic groups showed that Korean-American and Mexican-American subjects were much less likely than their European-American and African-American counterparts to believe that a patient should be told the truth about the diagnosis and prognosis of a terminal illness, we undertook an ethnographic study to look more deeply at attitudes and experiences of these respondents. European-American and African-American respondents were more likely to view truth-telling as empowering, enabling the patient to make choices, while the Korean-American and Mexican-American respondents were more likely to see the truth-telling as cruel, and even harmful, to the patients. Further differences were noted in how the truth should be told and even in definitions of what constitutes “truth” and “telling”. Clinical and bioethics professionals should be aware of how their cultural and economic backgrounds influence the way they perceive ethical dilemmas and remember to make room for the diverse views of the populations they serve.


Advance Directive Patient Autonomy Cone Biopsy Advance Care Directive Terminal Prognosis 
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Copyright information

© The New York Academy of Medicine 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie J. Blackhall
    • 1
    Email author
  • Gelya Frank
    • 2
  • Sheila Murphy
    • 3
  • Vicki Michel
    • 4
  1. 1.Pacific Center for Health Policy and EthicsUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles
  2. 2.Department of Occupational MedicineUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles
  3. 3.Anhenberg School of CommunicationUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos Angeles
  4. 4.Loyola Law SchoolLos Angeles

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