The rights and wrongs of physician-assisted suicide have been much debated. Rightly, most of the focus is on the person choosing to die. But what of the families they leave behind? In most circumstances, suicides wreak emotional devastation on families. Guilt, regret, anger, and grief cause much suffering after the suicide of a family member. So, we might expect to find the same emotions triggered by physician-assisted suicide.
However, new research suggests that isn’t necessarily the case. In a study in Portland, Oregon, where physician-assisted suicide has been legal under certain circumstances for 10 years, doctors interviewed family members around a year after a physician-assisted death, by lethal prescription.
They found 11 in 100 had some form of depression, and 2 in 100 still had symptoms of grief. But when researchers interviewed people whose family members had died naturally of terminal illness such as cancer, they found much the same results. The main difference was that people whose family member had opted for physician-assisted death felt more prepared for and accepting of the death.
The main negative findings were for people whose relatives had requested a lethal prescription to end their lives, but had not received one. Their relatives were more likely to feel regret about how they’d died, and to feel their relative’s wishes had not been taken into account. However, all the families whose relatives had chosen physician-assisted death were strongly supportive of this legal right. So, we don’t know what the impact might be if someone chose physician-assisted death when their family didn’t approve.
What you need to know. While there are plenty of reasons to argue about the rights and wrongs of opting for a physician-assisted death, it seems that the impact on the family isn’t necessarily one of them.
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