The Right To Die – Friends & Family Perspectives – Part 5by Dr Lisa Debrou - 12th November, 2016
The Right to Die – Friends & Family Perspectives – Part 5
For most people, the perspectives of friends and family members is of importance in major life decisions. We care about what they think, how they feel and the impact of our decisions on those we love. Conflict with friends or family members may be triggered by disagreements in a major decision. At best, it can bring people closer together, and at worst it can cause complete relationship breakdowns or changes to mental health. For these reasons, we need to consider the perspectives of friends and family when it comes to thinking about the right to die. We do not live in isolation and our decisions have an impact on others. Now we explore some of the emotions which can arise, in family and friends, in the situation where someone is making a decision on their right to die.
Guilt and shame
Feelings of guilt and shame may arise in family and friends who are involved in the decision-making process. Many factors will contribute to this, for example current relationship difficulties, cultural background, their age and their relationship to the unwell person. Guilt and shame are two emotions which are taboo, for obvious reasons. People can feel ashamed of their shame and can feel guilty about feeling guilt. Therefore, it is vital that family and friends involved in this difficult decision-making process have adequate support to allow people to process any such emotional experiences.
Anger is a normal human emotion which everybody will experience in their life. It is likely that family and friends may feel intense anger towards their loved one, towards the healthcare system or just generalised anger in a right to die situation. As anger is an adrenaline-producing emotion, it may change the way people communicate with their loved ones or drive them to behave in challenging ways. Anger can often be a covering layer for the protection of other difficult emotions such as anxiety or depression. Being angry at someone else is easier as it involves projection of one’s distress onto others. Obviously, this can cause more distress to everyone involved and would suggest that immediate systemic support is indicated.
Loss and Love
Ultimately, feelings of loss and love are connected. We feel loss more with those we love, and we have an acute sense of love when we feel grief or loss. It touches the same part of us although the two emotions ‘feel’ different. In the case of the person who is actively seeking their right to die, anecdotal evidence suggests that family and friends demonstrate both emotions. The grief and loss process may start as soon as their loved one starts speaking about their right to die, as it raises the possibility of separation. This is an incredibly challenging experience for anyone and will come with an immense wealth of mental pain. What underlies this is also love for the person who is ill. That love may be a driver for family and friends to demonstrate unyielding support for the suffering person in their decision, as our emotions frequently drive our behaviour.
We can summarise the above by understanding that family and friends are likely to experience mixed emotions in the situation where a loved one wants to consider their right to die. Emotions are fluid and changeable, but it is important to be aware of how family and friends may be affected by this issue, they are also seen as people who are in need.