How can I help an elder die?

1 answer | Last updated: Oct 12, 2010
A fellow caregiver asked...

How can I help my mother-in-law end her life when she wants to? She wants to live to 90, which she'll reach next year, and then "be done with it" because her various limitations make her life less than satisfying. But she's not sick or in pain.

Expert Answers

Barbara Repa, a senior editor, is an attorney, a journalist specializing in aging issues, and the author of Your Rights in the Workplace (Nolo), now in its 10th edition.

First, make sure your mother-in-law is thoroughly evaluated for depression. Many older people are coaxed out of despondent states through the power of antidepressants -- and there's a burgeoning number of effective ones out there these days -- and through talk therapy. Or some combination of the two.

You might also gently explore with her what it is about the round number 90 that has stuck in her mind as her proper age to die. That might help uncover some other feelings or motivations behind her death wish -- and might also help you tease out ways to make her life more satisfying and livable.

But you asked specifically about how you could help her die, which brings up the rather laden issue of assisted suicide. And frankly, the issue becomes even more laden for most when a person is neither sick nor in pain so that hastening the death could be seen as a merciful act by some.

How We Die: Reflections on Life's Final Chapter, written by a doctor, Sherwin B. Nuland, is a book that may offer you some interesting insight into the physical, psychological, and emotional aspects of death and dying. And a website run by Longwood University includes a hearty listing of resources -- from articles and books to websites to radio and television shows -- that take on the topic of physician-assisted suicide.