Thought Box

“To Be or Not To Be”

“To Be or Not To Be”

by Simran Puri January 30 2015, 7:57 pm Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 13 secs

Nature gives the gift of life.

Law gives the right to life.

Who is to grant, not to live?

It is often a cause of wonderment why human ashes are grey. Fires prefer black as the morefavouredcolour of devastation, for the inanimate. But the flaming of the flesh and the living is a uniform leveler that dons the colour grey as its last identity. Over the years I have often sought the wisdom of the elders by asking them “What did you learn from life?” The answers have been as varied as they have left me seeking more. The ultimate surmise is that life is an enigma. A perpetual mystery, that each can only attempt to unravel. The definitive and the certain are clearly amiss. The magnitude of complexities that surround life abound in each facet that can only inspire science and philosophy to keep alive their eternal quest for answers. Analogies and metaphors abound as they describe the living through prisms of sailors, travellers, seekers and the like.

A more simplified analogy would be life as a sentence in the present context. A grammatical sentence, that begs the profound query-What is to exist between the ‘comma’ and the ‘full stop’? Does Wren and Martin’s Grammar provide us with a correct punctuation, where a life languishes between the realms of breath and death, the ‘No man’s land’? Between the colours of life and the ashen end, there lies a grey zone, where no man has yet found the answers without further questions. How does one treat a living body that has succumbed to coma? Does a dead brain or a comatose body entitle others to a decide whether to perpetuate or terminate the state? Who is to take the call? And how? At what point of time? Permitting what level of intervention or protection from those sworn to the oath of Herodotes or the law? Who must take over then, man or God? One cannot but fail to notice the identity of a relative rendered ‘deceased’. The noun “Body” submerges every other identity the person has held. No one says, “Cover Daddy with the shroud”.

It is the breath that is the single determining feature. Its secession makes the future course bounden. But, there is a ‘but’. What if the breath is assisted by the ventilator? The body has ceased to function on its own. The person has not crossed into the threshold of the ‘deceased’. The medics will “brief”’ the close relatives on the advisability of ‘Putting the patient on the ventilator’. The paramedics will hasten to invade every orifice of the body with multi dimensional tubes, sometimes with invasive cuts and piercings. The inanimate object of treatment may wince at the painful intrusions, suffering blue and red spots of trauma occasioned by the devices. The pained and troubled family will only get to peep through the small door panel, staring at the swollen, unresponsive mass of flesh that was once a relative. Night watch and visiting hours will halt the caretaker’s life altogether at this rendition of ‘The best treatment we are committed to’, that the criti-care specialist assures. 

The only character amiss from the stage is the accountant, who invisibly sits printing out mammoth bills. If patients could hear, the resultant voluminous dues alone would occasion cardiac arrest. Would the powerless victim have envisioned otherwise? Would the family have it otherwise? Could the organs be donated and the end hastened? The protracted treatment interminably depletes family resources without succour. The reality cannot be expunged. The patient’s dignity is compromised as the treatment violates the boundaries of the caretakers’ resources. Are the affected drinking from the well of healing? The decision seems to stagger in the realms of religion, philosophy, philanthropy, emotions and societal dictates. Inexorably it is the law that isthe only abiding factor determining the outcome. 

In our legal system, the Constitution is the fountainhead of all laws. Art.21 guarantees the Right to Live. But it does not grant the Right to Die. The Supreme Court has upheld this premise in the case of ArunaShanbagh, a nurse left paralysed for decades after a brutal rape. She was denied the right to die. Our country does not recognize euthanasia. Its manner, misuse and frequency are reasons enough. Any act incongruent with the upholding of life, and any remote assistance to the contrary, is bound to set the criminal law in motion. One Latin maxim states ‘duralex sad lex’, ‘The law is hard but it is the law’. What then is the recourse available? “To take a decision is itself a decision” pondered Narsimha Rao.

In the collective wisdom derivative from the experiences of those who have tread the path as the caretakers, faltering between the twilight zones of this way or that, emerges a workable surmise. If our law treats the last Will and Testament of a person as a sacrament (the only document that attracts no Stamp duty), then the same person can leave a Will determining the course of action as applicable to the recognized manner of organ donation. Let the same document specify his/her desire of treatment, its duration, financial limits, and instructions in the event medical science declares the person ‘irretrievably comatose’. The document can be made on oath and stated before a Magistrate recording its voluntary nature, and manner of being executed without influence or coercion. If the Jain beliefs permit ‘Santhara’, a voluntary renunciation, then this act is congruent with the wishes of the living before they lapse into the domain of powerlessness.

The citizens can press the legislators to incorporate this option into law. To make it easy for the caretakers to submit to the wishes of the relative. In the interregnum the workable document of ‘last Will determining the line of treatment’ can be executed as above.

Until then, the arena remains grey. Perhaps symbolic of the realms of possibilities that exist between black and white. The grey human ashes seem to exemplify this reality.

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