HEC Forum 33 (4):401-414 (2021)
AbstractAs they age, many people are afraid that they might become a burden to their families and friends. In fact, fear of being a burden is one of the most frequently cited reasons for individuals who request physician aid in dying. Why is this fear so prevalent, and what are the issues underlying this concern? I argue that perceptions of individual autonomy, dependency, and dignity all contribute to the fear of becoming a burden. However, this fear is misplaced; common conceptions of these values should be re-framed and re-examined. Practices that support a more community-centered type of autonomy can be found in dependency and dignity. This paper offers some practical examples of how to address common end-of-life situations that may cause anxiety to patients who are worried about being a burden. These practices include discussing expectations, both for care and how the relationship among the participants might change, and modeling respectful caregiving behaviors. Most difficult of all, though, includes cultural and societal attitude changes so that people recognize the good in receiving care and get used to the idea that they do not need to do anything to be valuable.
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