OBJECTIVES: To study the opinions of nationals (Emiratis) and doctors practising in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with regard to informing terminally ill patients. DESIGN: Structured questionnaires administered during January 1995. SETTING: The UAE, a federation of small, rich, developing Arabian Gulf states. PARTICIPANTS: Convenience samples of 100 Emiratis (minimum age 15 years) and of 50 doctors practising in government hospitals and clinics. RESULTS: Doctors emerged as consistently less in favour of informing than the Emiratis were, whether the patient was described as almost certain to die during the next six months or as having a 50% chance of surviving, and even when it was specified that the patient was requesting information. In the latter situation, a third of doctors maintained that the patient should not be told. Increasing survival odds reduced the number of doctors selecting to inform; but it had no significant impact on Emiratis' choices. When Emiratis were asked whether they would personally want to be informed if they had only a short time to live, less than half responded in the way they had done to the in principle question. CONCLUSIONS: The doctors' responses are of concern because of the lack of reference to ethical principles or dilemmas, the disregard of patients' wishes and dependency on survival odds. The heterogeneity of Emiratis' responses calls into question the usefulness of invoking norms to explain inter-society differences. In the current study, people's in principle choices did not provide a useful guide to how they said they would personally wish to be treated.
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