Posting private details of illness

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Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: An acquaintance and "Facebook friend" has recently returned to her hometown to care for her mother in what is assumed will be her final illness. She has asked for the online love and support of her friends, which we are most willing to give. However, I am horrified that this friend shares the most personal details of her mother's ordeal, including her incontinence and paranoid hallucinations, in regular posts. Exposing an ill and defenseless woman in this way to hundreds of strangers seems a deeply disrespectful act by an otherwise loving and self-sacrificing daughter. I'm so upset by this that I have considered drawing up legal papers stating that if I ever need this type of care, and family members aren't willing to respect my dignity and privacy, that I be cared for by professionals who are bound by patient confidentiality. What are your views on this, Amy?Mortified

DEAR MORTIFIED: I share your mortification. And having experienced the joys and stresses of caretaking, I attest that the caretaker doesn't just see to someone else's medical needs; protecting the loved one's privacy and dignity is also important.

Just as some new parents overshare, it seems that illness and caring for someone at the end of life can lead to similar impulses. Your friend might not realize that every post she writes is seen not only by her Facebook friends but by a potentially almost limitless number of other people who occupy her friends' Facebook circles. Or this is simply the only way she has to relieve her own anxiety and stress.

You might ask your friend if she wants help to adjust her privacy settings to limit the circle of people who can see and share this deeply personal information.

I agree you should use this experience as an opportunity to explore this issue with your own family. They should be told how you feel about this and respect your wishes to the end.