If you were terminally ill or in a serious accident, would your family know whether you want to have extreme measures taken to save your life? Would they know what to do with your assets? A new study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston suggests that terminally ill black and Hispanic patients are less likely than whites to have set up an advance care plan, such as a living will or a do-not-resuscitate order.

Based on interviews with 449 cancer patients who were believed to have fewer than six months to live, the report states that 47 percent of black and Hispanic patients had discussed with their doctor an end-of-life care plan or had a documented plan in place as compared with 80 percent of white patients. The study also found that minority patients were more likely than whites to want life-prolonging treatment, even if they were told they had only a few days to live.

There are a few explanations for these disparities. One is the well-documented minority distrust of the medical and health system. Also, Alexander K. Smith, MD, the study’s head researcher, suggests that unconscious racial bias may influence the way doctors communicate with terminally ill patients and the type of treatment they recommend.