Chapter 7: Preparing for a medically assisted death

Can children be present at the death?


Providing options 

Ultimately the person who is dying decides who will be present at their death. If the person is open to the child being present, they generally benefit from having the option of being at the bedside. If they're given this choice, it's important they feel supported and not pressured one way or the other.   

Some children need a significant amount of time to think about this choice. They may change their minds several times. They need to be supported in this. If you have more than one child, encourage them to each make their own decision. Let them know it’s okay to make different choices. 

   

Choosing to be present

If your child wants to attend the death, you can prepare them for what to expect by talking about:

  • Who will be there.
  • What medical equipment will be used (such as an IV).
  • How the medications will be given.
  • How long death is expected to take after the medications are given.
  • What will happen as the person is dying (the sounds they might make, how they may look).
  • What will happen when the person dies.
  • What will happen after the person dies. (Some families read poems, sing together, say some final words, or hold or wash the body.) 

Health care providers, especially those who’ll assist with the death, can help with these conversations. 


During the death

Children may need help thinking about where they want to be, and what they’d like to be doing during the death. This can be as simple as choosing where to sit, and whether to hold someone’s hand. Having a plan can help them feel more comfortable. 

Give them the option to leave at any time if they feel uneasy. Arrange ahead of time for someone to be with children who decide not to stay. This might be another family member or a trusted friend with whom your child feels safe.

  

Choosing not to be present at the death 

The person who is dying and the child may prefer to spend time together before the medication is given. They can choose how to spend this time. They might, for example, have a quiet talk, listen to music, say a prayer together, or have a meal or cup of tea together.