Lost in Translation Google’s Translation of Palliative Care to ‘Do-Nothing Care’


by: Cynthia X. Pan, MD, FACP, AGSF

My colleagues often ask me: “Why are Chinese patients so resistant to hospice and palliative care?” “Why are they so unrealistic?” “Don’t they understand that death is part of life?” “Is it true that with Chinese patients you cannot discuss advance directives?”

As a Chinese speaking geriatrician and palliative care physician practicing in Flushing, NY, I have cared for countless Chinese patients with serious illnesses or at end of life. Invariably, when Chinese patients or families see me, they ask me if I speak Chinese. When I reply “I do” in Mandarin, the relief and instant trust I see on their faces make my day meaningful and worthwhile.

At my hospital, the patient population is about 30% Asian, with the majority of these being Chinese. Most of these patients require language interpretation. It becomes an interesting challenge and opportunity, as we often need to discuss advance directives, goals of care, and end of life care options with the help of language interpretation. It is challenging because we can barely conduct these sensitive discussions in English, much less having to interpret through a third party. To make matters more difficult, the translation of key terms into Chinese are archaic and actually scary to patients and family members.

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