My grandmother passed away recently, after spending the last few years of her life fighting all sorts of maladies. She was touching 90 years of age. From the last 15-20 years or so, she would always bring up her impending death during every conversation. She would have one thing to say – “when will I die? I want to die”. Of course, the curse (or blessing) of choosing the moment of death was only given to Bhishma in the Mahabharata. So it was, that my grandmother would spend her years lying in wait of the moment when it would come to pass. Her last 4-5 years were spent on the bed, with a nurse/ maid for company. She had lost her memory, could only eat semi solid food and was yearning for a life support system. Eventually, old age and fever conspired to relieve her of her bond with life.
Her condition towards the end begs the question – do humans really deserve this? We talk of quality of life being good and all the work that we do to maintain a dignity in life. What dignity and self-respect remain when one has to seek help to eat, to urinate and to move any body part? She had no hope of recovering and no reason to continue to live. Alas, she simply had to wait for the end to come.
She is not alone in her predicament. There are thousands of such stories playing out every day in India. Developed nations at least have a plan or intent to take care of their older aged members of society. The Indian Government does precious little. A couple of years back, while talking with a NeuroSurgeon, he had mentioned to me that his goal as a Doctor is to cure people such that they are able to make a reasonable contribution to society. In his considered opinion, patients in coma or those that have become like vegetables (no movement of the limbs, no recognition of the self or others, but just breathing) with little chance of recovery from the perspective of medical science were not worthy of spending precious resources, such as life support systems, ventilators, etc., on. There are thousands of people in India who suffer due to lack of medical facilities and in terms of priorities, those with a chance of recovery deserve more attention than those that do not have a chance to recover. Cold and startling as that comment is, there is truth in that.
Euthanasia is a widely debated topic and has its pros and cons in the current day world, without a doubt. I can’t think of a solution for the predicament of the family members, that are care-givers and the sufferer. There are emotions involved and the ultimate question – who has the right to take a life? The question that must be asked – what is being alive?