According to the Finnish Funeral Services Act, the worldview and wishes of the deceased must be respected in matters relating to their burial. A new study examined the funeral will and wishes of people who had received a palliative care decision, as well as the views of their family carers.
The study by Professor of Law and Ageing Anna Mäki-Petäjä-Leinonen and University Lecturer of Theology Suvi-Maria Saarelainen at the University of Eastern Finland showed that the clearer and more comprehensive the deceased’s wishes about the funeral ritual and the method and place of burial were, the less concerned their family members were about funeral arrangements. The study was published International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family.
The researchers analysed the funeral will and wishes of people aged 65 and over who were in palliative care, as well as the views of their carers and bereaved family members. 35 people participated in the research interviews.
The interviews showed that the deceased having a clear and comprehensive funeral will and wishes reduced the concerns of the surviving family members. In cases where the deceased had not expressed their wishes, the surviving family members sought to comply with presumed wishes of the deceased. In these cases, a clearly expressed religious conviction or other worldview affected the funeral arrangements. In addition, the relationship between the deceased, their family members and other close relatives played an important role in the arrangements.
The study also found that situations involving a blended family sometimes made it difficult to comply with the wishes of the deceased, especially if the relatives had differing interpretations of the deceased's wishes.
The article by Mäki-Petäjä-Leinonen and Saarelainen pertains to the Meaningful Relations - Patient and Family Carer Encountering Death at Home project, which examines older adults’ (over 65 years of age) and their family members’ experiences of ageing and encountering death. Relational perspectives are taken into account when studying the reality of death and bereavement at home. The researchers are particularly interested in the importance of interpersonal relationships in the processes of death and bereavement.
“In this multidisciplinary project, we approach issues of ageing and death from the perspectives of law, theology, social work, social policy, and health care. Our mission is to find out what meaning is given to relationality and the home setting in narratives of death and bereavement,” Mäki-Petäjä-Leinonen and Saarelainen say.
The project’s research material consists of interviews among three different groups of people, and of visual relationship maps drawn up on the basis of the interviews. The researchers have interviewed home-dwelling patients who have received a palliative care decision, active family carers involved in the end-of-life-care process, and family careers whose loved ones have already died.
The results of the project provide practical guidelines on what constitutes a good death at home, and how family carers can be supported in their role and in their bereavement process. The results can be used to improve the care, support and services available to those receiving end-of-life care at home, and the quality of home-based death. The research project is carried out as a consortium project between the University of Helsinki and the University of Eastern Finland. The project has received funding from Kone Foundation, the Finnish Cultural Foundation and the Oskari Huttunen Foundation.
The research article is available online: Anna Mäki-Petäjä-Leinonen, Suvi-Maria Saarelainen (2021). Funeral Wills and the Autonomy of a Dying Person: Experiences of Older People in Palliative Care and their Carers. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family. Volume 35, Issue 1, 2021, ebab034, https://doi.org/10.1093/lawfam/ebab034.
Further information on the Meaningful Relations - Patient and Family Carer Encountering Death at Home project is available at: https://uefconnect.uef.fi/en/group/meaningful-relations-patient-and-family-carer-encountering-death-at-home-merela/.
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