There is one friend who latches on to philosophical discourse whenever we sit down for an evening sundowner. His memory is sharp and he quotes from varied sources. He has very valid, practical and sometimes questionable outlook towards life and death. He is not worried or afraid of the end of life. He asserts borrowing from Athenian philosopher, “The hour of departure has arrived and we go our separate ways, I to die and you to live. Which of these is better, who could tell?”
Indeed one could never tell! Yet, sometimes we can presume and sometimes we can tell too. A couple of incidences in recent time have been telling. It is scary, unpredictable this phase called old age. But, also then as this diminutive fellow often argues, every next moment is scary because its unpredictability and one need not wait to be in old age to feel the anxiety. Nemesis can catch up with us any moment. But we continue to move on oblivious and apathetic. Quite a truism!
When we live in a non-welfare State, the odds that are stacked against us are enormous. A few months ago when my mother was hospitalised with acute pneumonia, the odds in her favour was almost bleak. It became less than pale when she had a secondary infection. When life is supported by an invasive apparatus and even physicians unable to tell how long the patient would need the aid of ventilator to survive, if at all he/she survived- as days and weeks go by, there comes a moment when we ask to particularly no one, how long can we financially sustain this cost?
A week ago, a not so aged close relative was felled by acute hemorrhage in the brain while he was revelling with his two little grandsons. He now lies in hospital after a life saving surgery and solely aided by the ventilator that keeps him alive. Will he come out of coma? If he does what impairment will he live with? If he continues to be in coma and slip into vegetative state, how long will he survive? How long will he need medical life support to survive in a morbid existence? Now his children are by his side, but soon they may have to attend to their quotidian necessities & of livelihood and they will have to leave. How deep are their pockets to meet the medical bills? Yes indeed he is their father, but how long will they be able to sustain the medical aid, for there is no cornucopia of wealth to dive into. Deep pockets!
The questions may seem to be inappropriate; after all it is the father who is battling for life. But then glaring facts and situations can be such that there is seldom room for emotional persuasions and the so called high ground ethics and morality as we love to identify with. Not everyone is a Schumacher or Christopher Reeves to possess the resources to endlessly spend on medical assistance. At some point one will have to accept that it is a culdesac. It will be an awfully repenting and helpless situation we might find ourselves.
Aruna Shanbag was cruelly kept alive-a frozen and withered vegetable for forty two years. The nurses of the King George hospital were asinine and audacious to state that given another one hundred years they would still care to keep the unfortunate woman alive and on external life support. Well in that case there were voluntary forums to meet the medical bill of that unethical saga enacted in the name of love, humanism, compassion and godliness. What about the cases of us, many other ordinary folks who might at some point find it a financially impossible task thrust upon us? What if we are the ones to be kept alive over the broken backs and lives of our children? Financial encumbrances in such cases will be enormous even to think of. Do we want to be kept alive and in the bargain wreck the lives of all who care for us? Do we want to be plowed under by the burden that we simply are unable to cope with- sustaining the miserable existence of the person we really love? Herein lie the irony, the tragedy of our falsehood, rhetorical frippery and malarkey-the government’s and the society’s refusal to legalise euthanasia. The fascination about life is its quality. And when the quality of life is not even remotely sensible, when the “Welfare State” is nonexistent, how can the government and the moralists deny a person’s right to dignified death? What civilised thought and law is it that would enable a government to criminalise assisted death by stopping life supporting medical intervention in cases of irretrievable physical state or in cases of financial impuissance arising out of grim and superfluous ghoulish existence, when the Government itself is unable to provide a welfare state?