Can Death Be a Relief for a Patient?

An electronic patients chart is shown on the wall to a hospital room at the newly constructed Kaiser Permanente San Diego Medical Center hospital in San Diego, California April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake - RC1740CA8030


Many people who are dying wish to die for one or more of the following reasons:

Requests for hastened death may be a way for patients and their families to express their desire for an increase in intensity of communication, improved symptom control, or acknowledgment of an existential or spiritual crisis. Rarely, such requests represent a desire to control the time, place, or manner of their death.

Although it is common to feel relief about certain aspects of a loved one’s death, this feeling in no way diminishes the love or grief associated with that loss. For physicians, feelings of relief can be very confusing, especially when they are accompanied by the sense that this is against their code of ethics.

Many clinicians who work with dying patients report experiencing depressive symptoms themselves, which can be exacerbated by patient deaths. If these emotions persist, it is important to seek help from peers, a senior physician, or other providers who can assist with a formal bereavement debriefing process. Also, it is a good idea to identify a trusted and compassionate person with whom you can talk about these feelings, and make sure they have your phone number. This will help interfere with two behaviors that fuel suicidal thinking: passivity and isolation. It’s also a good idea to have an emergency plan, such as a contact number for a suicide prevention hotline or hospital that facilitates psychologic support after a patient death, so you can access this resource if needed.