A Benign, Non-Violent Death Wish for The Elderly

A few days back I spoke over the mobile to an elderly friend and when the call ended, he seemed to have transferred to me all the burden of the world he was carrying. He said he was in hospital and when I asked him what the problem was, he laughed but despondently said: ‘The problem, Ravi, is I am not dying.’

‘God seems to have forgotten me,’ he added, quoting one of his former colleagues who languished for years with a host of infirmities till that same god, if there is one, remembered him.

My heart was full of empathy for my friend who couldn’t see properly, who couldn’t eat properly and had to be tube-fed, who couldn’t move about properly and needed assistance for everything, even though his mental acuity was great. 

I pictured myself in that situation and I was shell shocked, to say the least. How could I be in such a situation even for a day, not to mention a week, a month or a year or years together?

Aging, which in effect means gradually moving towards the grave, is a grave problem that only people who are aging experience and endure. Senior Citizens, Elder Statesmen, Patriarchs etc., are great as honorifics, but on the personal side the elders are mostly insecure, lonely and, if having infirmities and illnesses, perhaps mentally craving for an end to their ordeal.

Death Wish is a theme that many of our poets are fond of. Not of the kind that Charles Bronson popularized through his films in the 1970s and 1980s which was nothing but wishing someone else’s death, not of one’s own. What the poets extol in poetry is not a desire for suicide either but a desire for an end to the personal suffering through a peaceful and graceful end. Indefinitely, inordinately and painfully waiting for that end is itself an ordeal beyond endurance. 

So why not legally, morally, ethically, in terms of every human’s rights invite that end, instead of leaving it to Time or the whims and fancies of an unseen or unmoving god?

The best couplet on death wish for the elders would be something like this limerick I read somewhere:

I was born in Asia
And I would like to die by Euthanasia.

Modern medicine has worked wonders in combating diseases and prolonging life. But prolongation of life has become a problem in itself. For a good percentage of the elderly, it is not a life with dignity as there is no dignity involved in a life without memory, a life without recognition of one’s own sons or daughters or other loved ones, no dignity in remaining for long in a persistent vegetative state (PVS). If there is no god to pull the strings in such cases, the society, the government, and the care givers have to jointly take upon themselves the responsibility to do so.

Our laws, our religions and their scriptures, our law-and-order machinery, our armed forces, all of them do not shy of killing. Our scriptures make heroes out of fighting men who are killing machines, giving them fond titles like Maharathis, Athi Maharathis etc. A Maharathi is a chariot fighter who can single-handedly kill 700,000 men at a time. What an impressive homicidal haul! In modern times our law enforcement officers, and armed forces men are empowered to shoot to kill people in deserving circumstances. 

But when it comes to actively or passively helping a man or woman, suffering for long from an irreversible, irrecoverable, and sometimes painful health condition, to slip gradually into the everlasting nothingness, our law looks the other way.

The best example of judicial apathy, or insensitivity, in this regard may be found in the tragic case of Aruna Shanbaug, a nursing assistant in Mumbai who was brutally raped by a hospital sweeper, rendering her in a comatose stage for over 41 years from 1973 to 2015. The long period was enough for a person to enter judicial service, rise to his senior-most level in the hierarchy and retire. For such a long, long period the hapless girl remained in coma, and the Supreme Court turned down a plea by a social activist for permitting an end to her suffering through euthanasia. The only saving grace was that the court laid down some guidelines for ‘passive euthanasia,’ or withdrawal of life support systems in other deserving cases. Aruna died of natural causes after remaining in coma for four more years after the Supreme Court’s rejection of the euthanasia plea in 2011.

The Supreme Court is still pondering over the ethical and legal ramifications of active and passive euthanasia. And a law on this may take a long, long time in coming.

It is imperative therefore to press urgently for a law permitting active and passive euthanasia, a law that encapsulates all that is legally needed to provide for a benign, non-violent, peaceful and dignified end that any elderly, or any one in similar circumstances, may seek when the going is really tough. For a graceful and peaceful end, they richly deserve. This is the ultimate human right one may think of.

So, Elders of the world, unite to press for a law on Euthanasia as a possible end option, or a possible aura at the end of the tunnel. You have nothing to lose but your painful lives, you have a world to gain through Eu Thanasia (Thanatos), that is ‘Good Death.’


More by :  P. Ravindran Nayar

Top | Individuality

Views: 571      Comments: 4

Comment The first cousin of one of my sisters in law who was a very jolly person and was close friend as well was lying in a coma stage for years
. Dead to the world
.After more than a decade the doctors declared him dead. His loving wife stayed glued to him all those years
.When I went to see him in Chennai I could only weep
Euthanasia should be permitted. Add provisions to prevent misuse and abuse. Krishna

16-Oct-2023 06:28 AM

Comment and death has no dominion. it is the urge of everything born to remain undead, ever. yet, it will appear sensible to assist people to death. the question is who will do it when. a strict protocol must be evolved to assist in dying. it has to be fool[roof considering how nonchalant is our hospital administration.

Govindan kutty.K
15-Oct-2023 05:36 AM

Comment Like Geetha Nair said, it is the fervent wish of every aging person to have one’s life ended. It is the uncompromising wish of everyone living!
The topic of euthanasia is amazing. Even after 40 years! In this country, dying with dignity is a concept, much valued!

Sosanna Kuruvila
15-Oct-2023 00:18 AM

Comment Sir, that's a persuasive and heart-felt argument for euthanasia. I couldn't agree more.
To die with dignity is the fervent wish of every aged person.

Geetha Nair
14-Oct-2023 19:35 PM

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