Ethics at the Edges of Life: Cultural Clashes in Determining when Death has Occurred: A Case Study of the Hmong People

Presenter: Susan Setta

Research Category: Social Sciences, Business, and Law
Student Type: Undergraduate

While Western medicine overwhelmingly accepts a specific definition of brain death, perspectives arising from Indigenous religions sharply differ.  This research explores definitions of life and death within the tradition of Hmong people who do not believe that a person supported by mechanical means and categorized, as brain dead is actually dead.  Further, to the Hmong, withdrawing mechanical support will seriously and permanently interfere with the entry of the individual into the spirit world.

This research explores the Hmong understanding of the nature of life and death and the system of determining the proper action in the face of a moral dilemma.  This research is aimed at increasing cultural competency among health care professionals in order to enhance care and counseling services for the 120,000 Hmong currently in the United States.