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At Death's Door

At death's door

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December 29, 2010

You're at the hospital where your mom's sudden stroke has left her in a coma with little possibility that she will survive. She has no living will or other advance directive. Suddenly, your sister-in-law pipes up to say that she thinks the family should discontinue life support. Tempers flare. How does your family maintain control of this situation?

There are few situations as emotionally charged as the death of a loved one. Many of the biggest dramas for families occur in the last months, weeks and days of a family member's life. The passing of a parent is a very personal time. Try to hold a meeting of siblings and a surviving parent so you can make those decisions that are in the best interests of your mom.

Tell your sister-in-law as kindly and calmly as you can that this is a personal family situation and, while you appreciate her concern and respect that she is "family" as well, this is your mother and it's important that you and your siblings make these decisions together. It will be easier if your dad is still alive and capable of helping make that decision. He can step in to "take charge". If not, explain that you know your mother the best and the fewer people involved in decision-making, the better. Tell your sister-in-law that stepping back from this situation could help alleviate any guilt she may experience after your mother's death. She won't have to wonder if she gave the best advice.

If you don't think your sister-in-law will accept this approach, why not involve a third party? Most hospitals have a social worker on staff accustomed to dealing with such situations. Explain your dilemma to the hospital staff. They can advise you how to proceed.

To help avoid these issues in the future, acquaint yourself and your loved ones with the "Five Wishes". This is a document that helps families discuss sensitive end-of-life issues. You will also find other valuable information about planning for end-of-life issues and what documents need to be in place.

Please download the guide: 50/50 Rule® Brochure (PDF 950K).

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