Families cope better after euthanasia than natural death

The bereaved family and friends of cancer patients who die by euthanasia have less grief symptoms and post-traumatic stress reactions than the bereaved of comparable cancer patients who die a natural death, finds a study in this week’s BMJ.

Researchers from the Netherlands assessed 189 bereaved family members and close friends of terminally ill cancer patients who died by euthanasia and 316 bereaved family members and close friends of comparable cancer patients who died a natural death between 1992 and 1999.

The family and friends of cancer patients who died by euthanasia had less traumatic grief symptoms, less current feeling of grief, and less post-traumatic stress reactions than the family and friends of cancer patients who died of natural causes. These differences were independent of other risk factors.

Possible explanations for less grief symptoms among the family and friends of patients who died by euthanasia include the opportunity to say goodbye, being more prepared for the way and day of the imminent death, and being able to talk openly about death, say the authors.

“Our results should not be interpreted as a plea for euthanasia, but as a plea for the same level of care and openness in all patients who are terminally ill,” they conclude.

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