The fundamental right to death with dignity

September 2001

A great deal of misery can be avoided by simply signing a declaration that you don’t want to be kept alive on life-support systems. A life and death with dignity is everbody’s fundamental right 

MY 84-YEAR-OLD UNCLE IS BACK HOME from hospital after being in ICU (intensive care unit) for two weeks and in a hospital room for another two weeks. Somehow I find it difficult to rejoice his homecoming. In four weeks a hitherto robust individual in the pink of health has been reduced to skin and bones without the desire to eat or even to sit up. Although he had kept himself busy all these years after the death of his wife, he has been lonely and was awaiting his time to go.

A month ago my uncle, who was like a grandfather to me, got wet in the rain after which he sat in an air conditioned coffee shop and drank cold coffee. The consequence of this misadventure was chest congestion which had him gasping for breath. Overnight he was advised admission into the ICU of Bombay Hospital when he could well have been treated at home. Admittedly the consequence of home care may have been loss of breath and perhaps even loss of life. But then isn’t that the way one is supposed to leave the mortal body behind?

Not according to contem-porary medical practitioners. The doctor kept insisting that the heart and kidney were fine and so how could we deny him life supporting devices? So there was my robust, six-foot tall uncle strapped into a hospital bed to prevent him pulling out the tubes, wires and mask.  Moreover his arms and neck were pierced with needles and all types of tubes were inserted into his nose and mouth to feed him, to allow phlegm to be discharged and to medicate and sedate him. Worst of all he was isolated in a sterile room with visitors allowed for only a few minutes one at a time.  Everytime I visited him I never saw a nurse or attendant ministering to him — just my uncle lying alone and attached to all these machines. It is hardly a secret that all hospitals are under-staffed. Hardly how you’d like to see your loved ones incarcerated. Nor how I’m sure medical practitioners would like their nears and dears trussed up.  

AFTER THIS TREATMENT MY UNCLE IS BACK HOME with a full-time nurse in attendance, unable to read or even converse without becoming quickly exhausted. Besides listening to music he has little desire to do anything. So staring at the ceiling wondering why his time on earth has been unnaturally prolonged is what he does all day long. Knowing fully well that death or its timing has little to do with disease and everything to do with destiny, one still can’t help feeling sorry for a relative who is so obviously lonely and has no desire to go on.

I remember almost ten years ago when my grandmother was over 80 years of age and knew her time had come. Luckily for her we are a family that keeps doctors at a distance and hospitals too. So unanimously at her request all of us decided that she wouldn’t spend her last days in a hospital.  She was going to be with us in her own room and in our home with all of us tending her until she breathed her last.

That last week was a memorable one. The way I am sure it was meant to be. Every relative, niece, nephew and grand child came to visit her. We, the immediate family were all gathered around her when she peacefully passed away. It was truly something I’ve been grateful for having experienced and know she was fortunate to have such a beautiful end. Maybe her karma gave her the benefit of leaving her body in the arms of so many loved ones. It really makes me strive to be worthy of such an end.  

Therefore while others were praying for my uncle’s survival I was praying for his deliverance. He has had a rich and full life. A death with dignity rather than a lonely prolonged end under medication is in my opinion a consummation devoutly to be wished.

THERE ARE LAWS THAT PROTECT YOU from ending life as a vegetable. It is I believe, the responsibility of the young to bring this to the notice of their parents and grandparents. A great deal of misery can be avoided by simply signing a declaration that you don’t want to be kept alive on life support systems. A life and death with dignity is everybody’s fundamental right.

In ancient times, and maybe in some indigenous tribes even today, when a man or woman felt they’ve done their duties and don’t need to tarry further they would bid farewell to the community, go to an area allocated for the purpose, lie on the ground and simply stop breathing.  Although I’m not advocating this, I’m urging you to see the beauty in such a dignified end as opposed to what we see happening around us.  

Although much of what happens to us in life or in death is not entirely in our hands, as rational beings we need to think about and decide upon certain issues before it is too late and one of our loved ones is the unfortunate one strapped into a cruel hospital bed. And like my uncle, penalised for having a healthy heart and kidneys. Today the medical world insists you die of a ‘failure’ of some kind rather than just loss of breath. Unless you are lucky to die in your sleep before they have a chance to hospitalise you, or are fortunate, like my grandmother, to die in the arms of a loving family that has given death the thought it deserves, there’s a grim end awaiting you.

Kavita Mukhi

Kavita Mukhi

She is the mentor of The Farmers’ Store and the founder of The Bandra Farmers Market. She is a pioneer, evangelist and an over all inspiration and motivating force of our business. She is actively involved in steering the company up the organic path and also is the qualitative think tank and procurement authority behind all the products sold at The Farmers’ Store. Learn more about her on the About Us Page!

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