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September 13, 1995

Western Bioethics on the Navajo Reservation: Benefit or Harm?

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Baltimore, Md (Dr Carrese), and the Department of Anthropology, University of Washington, Seattle (Dr Rhodes). Dr Carrese was a Veterans Affairs fellow in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program, University of Washington, Seattle, when this study was conducted.

JAMA. 1995;274(10):826-829. doi:10.1001/jama.1995.03530100066036

Objective.  —To understand the Navajo perspective regarding the discussion of negative information and to consider the limitations of dominant Western bioethical perspectives.

Design.  —Focused ethnography.

Setting.  —Navajo Indian reservation in northeast Arizona.

Participants.  —Thirty-four Navajo informants, including patients, biomedical health care providers, and traditional healers.

Results.  —Informants explained that patients and providers should think and speak in a positive way and avoid thinking or speaking in a negative way; 86% of those questioned considered advance care planning a dangerous violation of traditional Navajo values. These findings are consistent with hózhó, the most important concept in traditional Navajo culture, which combines the concepts of beauty, goodness, order, harmony, and everything that is positive or ideal.

Conclusions.  —Discussing negative information conflicts with the Navajo concept hózhó and was viewed as potentially harmful by these Navajo informants. Policies complying with the Patient Self-determination Act, which are intended to expose all hospitalized Navajo patients to advance care planning, are ethically troublesome and warrant reevaluation.(JAMA. 1995;274:826-829)

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