Families haunted by end-of-life decisions
March 2nd, 2011
03:51 PM ET

Families haunted by end-of-life decisions

The burden of making medical decisions for a loved one can cause distress and even post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a report published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

When a patient is physically or mentally unable to make medical choices, his or her fate falls into the hands of others, usually family members or friends.  They ultimately choose whether to start dialysis, have a risky surgery or put a person on life support.

The prevailing logic is that family members know the patient best and can make the most appropriate medical decisions.

“We’ve been relying on surrogates,” said author David Wendler, who heads the Unit on Vulnerable Populations at the National Institutes of Health’s Department of Bioethics.  “We think how else are we going to do this when people can’t do it for themselves?  It turns out the number of patients who can’t make decisions are particularly high. Especially in the end of life when 50% of the patients can’t make those decisions.”

That leaves the family with heavy responsibilities.  In research interviews, family members agonized over the dilemma.  This decision haunted them months and even years later.

“They feel like they’re being asked to be the agent of the demise of someone they really care about,” Wendler said.  “Not surprisingly, that’s really stressful and hard.”

One respondent said: “I don’t want to kill. That’s the part that I agonized over a lot.”

Family members felt they let their loved ones die by removing life support.  Those who left patients on life support felt responsible for prolonging their suffering.

“In the paper, people said things like, ‘I wouldn’t wish being a surrogate on my worst enemy,’ and ‘I felt like I was the jury to sentence to death the person I loved most in the world.’ You read that, you can see how traumatic it was for them,” Wendler said.

After examining  40 studies, Wendler estimated that the about a third experienced substantial distress, another third felt moderate distress and less than 10% had a positive experience.  Because the various studies used different measures, it’s hard to give precise estimates, he said.

The people who did not feel scarred by the experience, usually expressed confidence that they knew what the patient would’ve wanted.

One respondent reported: “Thank God Mom and Dad had a living will made. I’m glad I was not the person who had to make that decision.”

Another said, “That’s why I basically have no regrets. I was carrying out her wishes.”

Without prior conversations or an advance directive, families may have a false confidence. A different study found that surrogates correctly predicted the patient’s preferences in only two-thirds of the cases.

Having an advance directive that specified the patient's treatment preferences significantly reduced family stress, the report found.

soundoff (780 Responses)
  1. rv appliance repair near me


    June 12, 2021 at 08:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Cargo Van Repair Shop Near Me


    June 12, 2021 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. RV Toilets California


    June 12, 2021 at 09:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Sprinter Calliper Repair


    June 12, 2021 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Sprinter Climate Control Repair


    June 12, 2021 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rv for sale near me

    This is a topic which is near to my heart... Take care! Exactly where are your contact details though?


    June 12, 2021 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. propane refill near me

    This is a topic which is near to my heart... Thank you! Exactly where are your contact details though?


    June 12, 2021 at 18:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. printing services near me

    Spot on with this write-up, I truly feel this site needs a lot more attention. Iíll probably be back again to see more, thanks for the info!


    June 12, 2021 at 18:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. target near me

    Great post! We will be linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the great writing.


    June 12, 2021 at 18:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. waterfalls near me

    I really love your site.. Pleasant colors & theme. Did you create this amazing site yourself? Please reply back as Iím hoping to create my own personal website and want to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Thank you!


    June 12, 2021 at 22:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. tire shops near me


    June 13, 2021 at 01:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. gun stores near me

    This website was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Cheers!


    June 13, 2021 at 01:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. sephora near me


    June 13, 2021 at 02:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. pnc near me

    Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thank you, However I am going through problems with your RSS. I donít understand the reason why I cannot join it. Is there anybody else getting the same RSS problems? Anybody who knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanx!!


    June 13, 2021 at 04:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. walmart hours near me

    I quite like reading a post that can make people think. Also, thank you for permitting me to comment!


    June 13, 2021 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. tire shop near me


    June 13, 2021 at 08:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. cheesecake factory near me


    June 13, 2021 at 10:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. pnc near me

    Your style is unique in comparison to other people I have read stuff from. Many thanks for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I'll just book mark this blog.


    June 13, 2021 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. mechanics near me


    June 13, 2021 at 14:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. pet grooming near me

    Itís hard to come by well-informed people for this topic, but you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks


    June 13, 2021 at 15:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. buy here pay here near me

    Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful article. Thanks for supplying these details.


    June 13, 2021 at 19:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. psychiatrist near me

    Having read this I believed it was really enlightening. I appreciate you taking the time and energy to put this short article together. I once again find myself personally spending way too much time both reading and leaving comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    June 13, 2021 at 21:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. liquor near me

    This site really has all of the info I needed about this subject and didnít know who to ask.


    June 14, 2021 at 00:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Purplelottery.com

    This is a really good tip especially to those new to the blogosphere.

    Simple but very precise info… Thanks for sharing this one.
    A must read post!

    June 14, 2021 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. haunted houses near me

    Your style is so unique in comparison to other folks I've read stuff from. I appreciate you for posting when you have the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this blog.


    June 14, 2021 at 01:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. groceries near me

    I blog frequently and I seriously appreciate your information. This article has truly peaked my interest. I will bookmark your site and keep checking for new details about once a week. I opted in for your Feed too.


    June 14, 2021 at 02:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. farmers market near me


    June 14, 2021 at 05:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. auto parts stores near me

    Hi there! I just want to offer you a huge thumbs up for the excellent information you have right here on this post. I am coming back to your website for more soon.


    June 14, 2021 at 05:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. garden center near me

    There is definately a lot to find out about this topic. I like all of the points you made.


    June 14, 2021 at 07:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. bed bath and beyond near me

    Greetings, I think your web site could be having web browser compatibility issues. When I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in IE, it has some overlapping issues. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Apart from that, wonderful blog!


    June 14, 2021 at 16:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Sprinter Repair Near Me


    June 14, 2021 at 21:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Camper Repair Shop Near Me


    June 14, 2021 at 23:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. RV Repair San Clemente California

    This page definitely has all the info I needed concerning this subject and didnít know who to ask.


    June 15, 2021 at 01:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. RV Repair Nearby


    June 15, 2021 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. RV Repair Shops Nearby


    June 15, 2021 at 04:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. RV Repair Orange County California


    June 15, 2021 at 05:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Nearby RV Repairs

    Hi there! This blog post couldnít be written any better! Looking at this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I will send this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. I appreciate you for sharing!


    June 15, 2021 at 12:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. RV Repair Places Near Me

    Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Thank you for providing this information.


    June 15, 2021 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Camper Repair Shops Near Me


    June 15, 2021 at 14:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. RV Repair Garden Grove

    Hi, I do believe this is an excellent blog. I stumbledupon it 😉 I will come back once again since I bookmarked it. Money and freedom is the greatest way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.


    June 15, 2021 at 20:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Sprinter Repair Shop Near Me


    June 16, 2021 at 00:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. RV Repair Nearby


    June 16, 2021 at 04:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. RV Repair Near Me Now


    June 16, 2021 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. RV Repair San Clemente California

    May I simply just say what a comfort to uncover somebody who really knows what they are talking about online. You actually understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important. A lot more people should read this and understand this side of your story. I can't believe you're not more popular given that you surely have the gift.


    June 16, 2021 at 09:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Camper Repair Shop Near Me

    An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a friend who was doing a little research on this. And he in fact bought me dinner simply because I discovered it for him... lol. So let me reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some time to discuss this issue here on your web site.


    June 16, 2021 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. dillards near me

    Having read this I thought it was very enlightening. I appreciate you finding the time and energy to put this short article together. I once again find myself spending way too much time both reading and posting comments. But so what, it was still worthwhile!


    June 16, 2021 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. shoe stores near me

    Itís hard to find well-informed people for this topic, however, you sound like you know what youíre talking about! Thanks


    June 16, 2021 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. www.pharmaceptica.com

    tadalafil side effects https://pharmaceptica.com/

    June 16, 2021 at 20:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Nearby RV Repairs


    June 16, 2021 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. truck rental near me

    There's definately a lot to find out about this subject. I love all of the points you made.


    June 17, 2021 at 03:00 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.