Making life and death meaningful

Gita Ramaswamy

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2016.054


Thirty-five years ago, when my father died of a massive heart attack at the age of 61 after lingering for three days in a hospital, the family suffered no guilt – was he diagnosed early enough? Was good treatment provided? The answers were in the affirmative, given the quality of healthcare provided to a middle-class citizen in India at that time. Our (read middle-class) attitude to death, when we face it, is now complicated. As in the West, we prolong life even when its quality has decreased dramatically, we medicalise situations like pregnancy, scoffing at centuries of women’s wisdom, and we refuse to allow dignity in death. We now watch our dear ones as they linger for days in the intensive care unit (ICU); sometimes, the hospital does not declare death for a couple of days, but claims payment, unwilling to keep an unoccupied bed. We watch 90-year-olds living their last days in the terrible confines of the ICU instead of within the warm walls of their own homes, surrounded by their loved ones. We watch lives being prolonged by the intubator and other invasive devices even when there is no hope of recovery and when the patient is clearly suffering.

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