Handbook for Mortals : Hastening Death : How can I spare my family from suffering?

If you are terribly sick and in pain, it is understandable that you might want to "get it over with." You might feel that dying quickly will spare your loved ones the burden and pain of suffering. Picture of an hourglass Such feelings are common, given the emotional and financial toll of living with a life-threatening disease. Although the burdens of care can be overwhelming to family, it is also true that caring for another human being often enriches us, making us more compassionate and kind, or showing us strengths we did not know we had.

No matter how you die, your family will suffer. In the depths of your despair, you may not envision the effect a decision for suicide or lethal injection would have on them. Suicide can devastate its survivors. Spouses and children ordinarily feel responsible for not relieving your emotional pain. They are often angry at being cheated out of a chance to talk to you and help you. The guilty feelings last for years, marking their future relationships. Religious beliefs might lead others to judge you very harshly, and your family may bear the brunt of such judgment.

If you ask your family if they feel burdened or overwhelmed, they might say they are. But they are also likely to say they’ll do anything for you, and put aside your worries. In fairness to the people you love, talk to them. Tell them what you think. Very often, they won’t agree that suicide may be the best option, and their perspective may help you see both more valued ways to continue to live and less destructive or dangerous ways to hasten death.

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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