Saturday, June 08, 2013
When a dying wish conflicts with the needs of the living, which should take priority? Some extreme cases would be pretty easy to call: if a person's last wish is that a friend should go murder her ex-husband, the friend might not have trouble disobeying. But what about less severe cases? A friend told me of a terminally ill woman who felt so worried about leaving her dog behind that she made her daughter promise to have the dog euthanized after the woman died. The daughter promised, but after the woman passed, she made the decision to find the dog another home instead. The dog now lives with another family. Should the daughter live with the eternal guilt of having disobeyed her mother's dying wish? Many people might say no.
So where's the cutoff point? If a dying man makes his son swear not to tell the man's ex-wife (the son's mother) that he's dying, how obligated is the son to make that promise and keep it? Should the son make the promise to give his father peace, but tell his mother anyway? Should the son just do as his father says? What about the long-term effects of such a secret on the relationship between the mother and son? If the son has a strong relationship with both, and knows his mother will never forgive him for not telling, but the father will never forgive him for telling, which way does he go?
I say the son should focus on the relationship that will serve him the longest: his relationship with his mother. He'll have to face her for the rest of her life, and if she's an important part of his emotional support, he'll need her as his dad fades out.
Many think a person's imminent death gives the dying person's desires priority over everyone else's, but I disagree. If a dying person's last wish is too unreasonable or damaging, I believe it's the prerogative of others to disobey it, and maybe even lie about it to keep the dying person at peace. We have to take care of ourselves and not let short-term, unrealistic expectations sink us at a time when we need the support of others. I say don't burn bridges with the living to appease the dying. Better to risk the terminally ill hating you for the rest of their lives rather than the healthy people.