Families often have deeply ambiguous feelings about termination of life support. In general, families want their loved ones given all the benefits of medical technology, including advanced life support. The family’s interests become compelling when a patient with dependent children refuses life-saving treatment. At the same time, families are the main witnesses to the suffering and degradation that accompany the long-term life support of an incompetent patient. This creates a humanitarian urge to terminate life support, which is often complicated by unresolved feelings of guilt over family issues unrelated to life support. For example, a family may want to use every possible avenue to prolong the grandmother’s life because they feel guilty for putting her in a nursing home.
In the worst cases, family interests are shaped by potential inheritances. Since many wills contain clauses that shift the distribution of the estate depending on the time of death, there can be substantial financial interests in either artificially prolonging or shortening life. A major function of probate courts is to resolve family members’ conflicts over estates. It would be unrealistic to assume that these conflicts had no influence on family decisions on termination of life support.