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Spirituality is an important part of African-American culture and is often cited as an explanation for the more-aggressive treatment preferences of some African Americans at the end of life. This paper reviews the literature on spiritual beliefs that may influence the treatment decisions of African Americans.

Medline 1966 to February 2003, Psych Info 1872 to February 2003, and CINAHL 1982 to February 2003 were searched for studies exploring spiritual beliefs that may influence the treatment preferences of African Americans. All candidate papers were examined for quality, and data were extracted on study population, design, analysis, and results to identify recurrent themes. Forty studies met inclusion criteria.

Recurrent themes describing spiritual beliefs that may influence the treatment preferences of African Americans throughout the course of illness include the following: spiritual beliefs and practices are a source of comfort, coping, and support and are the most effective way to influence healing; God is responsible for physical and spiritual health; and the doctor is God's instrument.

Spiritual beliefs specifically addressing treatment preferences at the end of life include: only God has power to decide life and death, there are religious prohibitions against physician-assisted death or advance directives limiting life-sustaining treatments, and divine intervention and miracles occur.

For some African Americans, spiritual beliefs are important in understanding and coping with illness and may provide a framework within which treatment decisions are made. Given the growing ethnic diversity of the United States, some understanding of the complexities of culture and spirituality is essential for healthcare providers.

(C) 2005 by the American Geriatrics Society