Different cultures and religions deal with the concept of death differently. The use of medicine and health care varies across different cultures because of the beliefs of their people. Due to varying beliefs across cultures, there is a need for cultural understanding or cultural competence in medicine, especially in palliative care. ‘In medicine, cultural competence means providing health care services that are respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices, and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse patients.’ The use of cultural competence is especially important in palliative care because people of varying cultures have very different approaches to dealing with death. (Palliative care improves the quality of life for patients who have a serious or life-threatening disease).
An organisation called the Middle East Cancer Consortium (MECC) developed a project in 2005 to raise awareness of palliative care problems faced by its members (United States and the health ministries of Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Turkey). The aim of MECC’s project is to find a common ground between these 7 countries’ methods of dealing with palliative care. Part of this project is to give palliative care training to nurses, physicians and social workers which respects the varying spiritual beliefs between the countries involved.
In many hospitals, there are now nurses who are employed because they are of the same religion and cultural background to certain patients. For example Dr. Myriam Weyl Ben-Arush, (head of the Pediatric Hematology Oncology Department at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel) has Arabic-speaking nurses and social workers, as well as those who speak Hebrew. This is to ensure that staff can be empathetic to the spiritual needs of their patients.
Taking spiritual belief into account is important when dealing with death because people of different cultures have different beliefs. For example, a Druze family believes in reincarnation and an Arab Christian person believes in Heaven. So perhaps these people will find the idea of death less difficult than someone who does not believe in any kind of life after death.