What to Do When a Loved One Is Ready to Die

Listen, say experts. And prepare to be sad
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2010 6:49 AM CST
Hands Across The Years   (©Brian Tomlinson)

(Newser) – When Zoe FitzGerald Carter's mother told her she wanted to end her life, her first reaction "was to try to dissuade her." A year later, an intentional overdose of morphine granted her mother, who had suffered from advanced Parkinson's disease, her wish. It left Carter asking an endless stream of questions: Should she have taken her mom to a psychiatrist? Cut off her access to medication? Tried harder to convince her not to? The latter effort is a typical one, say experts—but it's not one they recommend. So how should one react when a loved one wants to die? Listen.

“Ninety-five percent of the time a patient brings it up, the request to have help dying fades away if you engage in this listening process," says a doctor at a Boston cancer institute. Listen for issues like physical pain (can anything be done to make her more comfortable?) and depression (if she's making regular requests, a visit with a mental health clinician is advised). But even if you ultimately determine the decision is a sound one, "the conversation probably has only just begun," writes Carter in the New York Times. "In my mother’s case, we talked for over a year about why she wanted to take her own life. Although I was enormously sad, ultimately I accepted that she had the right to make this choice. Two weeks after I called to tell her that I supported her plans, she stopped eating and drinking. My sister and I were at her bedside to the very end."

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