A couple of years back, I had written a blog titled “Longevity bane or boon!” The link for the blog is given below. In a couple of years, our thought processes change, situations change, more information becomes available. The present blog can be considered as an addendum to the old blog.
Last fifty to seventy years have seen life expectancy go up and up and up! Obvious reasons for this are better medical treatment, higher incomes allowing families to afford treatments for managing illnesses. Add to this better diagnostics and a better understanding of the diseases. Life has become interesting; knowledge about exercise and diets is also improving. All this has led to improved longevity.
But everything in life always has two sides. The sides are good and evil, rosy and dark. Like the pros and cons, we have a positive way of looking at things and a negative way of looking at things. One important aspect of humans is emotions. The human brain is supposedly more advanced than that of most species, and it is seemingly flexible in thinking. Hence we look at death and maybe death like situation, in a different way.
Are we practical in our thinking? Are we pragmatic in our thinking? In most cases, the answer is no! In the last couple of months, three persons known to me, between the age of 67 to 75, died “suddenly”! The 75-year old person was leading a bonus life as he had escaped the death a few years back, miraculously. Another person did die “suddenly” as we knew her quite well and know the details. She had normal health issues which never indicated she is passing shortly. Then there was one more “sudden” death! We never knew his “real” health situation, but he looked quite unwell about ten days back. I am talking about my neighbours from the condo where I lived for 35 years of my life! Out of the three, two looked normal, moved around or travelled unattended. They attended our society meetings and took part in the proceedings.
My point is would their close ones, or they have a preferred death after they got into full assist mode? Knowing them, I do not think they would have liked to live a life where they were dependent on someone else all the time. Am I talking of euthanasia? Yes and No! What is the point in being around in this world when you do not and cannot contribute anything? By contribution, I do not mean writing some stories or treaties. But live life with minimum assistance. No harm in taking help but if you need help like we help babies to grow, then it is not worth it. I may be a little blunt, and you may think I am crude and rude! But I am not, I am pragmatic! Would an “intelligent” human being like to live like a stuttering engine? Would someone splutter all the time and love to continue living? I don’t think so!
Sometimes, it is the near and dear ones who take decisions leading to such situations. Emotions take precedence over pragmatism. Medical practitioners take Hippocratic oath when they complete their degree. I am giving below the definition of Hippocratic oath!
The Hippocratic Oath is a symbol of a collective moral and ethical promise from doctors united in a singular purpose to bring healing to their patients. It is named after Hippocrates, a Greek physician who was born in 460 BC.
This oath ensures that the doctors try their best to save the life of the patient who has come to them for the treatment. The oath in today’s times becomes a double-edged tool. Many times it so happens that patient is taken in for condition A and then condition B evolves. Since doctors are under the Hippocratic Oath, they try different drugs, procedures and support systems to keep the patient alive. At this point, the moral dilemma starts. How much intervention should be done to keep the patient alive? What aspects should be pondered until the decisions are taken? Doctor’s Hippocratic Oath is on one side, the family’s moral conflict and trauma are on the other side! These two conflicting thoughts clash. In real life, they don’t clash. The family tries to decide in such a way that life is not lost, though it is hanging by a single thread!
I remember an incident many years back shared by a doctor with me. A friend called him early morning for advice. The person’s father was in a hospital, all of 88 years of age. He was kept alive by use of a ventilator for a month. Hippocratic Oath and commercial side of the hospital wanted to continue the treatment. The prognosis was weak, and doctors had said that without ventilator the patient would die in 24 hours. The emotional turmoil of the family was not allowing practical decision. The friend finally decided to remove the ventilator. The old man died in 12 hours. The friend was caught in an emotional whirlpool for a lifetime, thinking “I am responsible for the death”!
What is the right age to allow someone to die without intervention? How does one know that the health condition is irreversible? How to know when to let go? These questions arise, and they need to be answered. Else one may see a top-notch professional, a top-class cricketer or a dashing prime minister of a nation being kept alive in a condition which is traumatic even to know!
Discussion brings one to the good old question of who should look after whom? In the ordinary course of time, parents look after the children once they are born. They are looked after until the child becomes independent. When does a child become independent? Do we have an answer for that? When life expectancy was low, humans would support their children for almost 35 to 40 % of the child’s life span. In other species, this support could be there for about 10 to 15% of their life span. Is this an advantage or a disadvantage? To me, it is more emotional. Because of low life expectancy, the children did not have to look after their parents. Nowadays it is common to have “children” who are 50 and parents around 80. Is it children’s responsibility to look after their parents? This thought goes against the basic thinking of how we want our children to be!
Yesterday at a mall, Rhea and I were going to an escalator. I jokingly told her that I am not very confident about using the escalator. She “taught” me how to do it! That is how she has been brought up. I had a similar anecdote with my grandson Suyash. He was 2 ½ years old. I was seeing him for the first time; we went to the escalator he simply said, “I want to go up”! He did.
Confidence with which the children and grandchildren are brought up, the things we teach them are done for a specific reason. We want them to try to do better than what we have achieved in our lives. We want them to become better persons; we want them to become global citizens with no limits. Then we become 80, do we want them to come where ever we are living, to support us? In India, systems for handling old people are still evolving. Society will find a way of doing these things. What is the point in restricting the career path of children so that they can look after us in our old age? The same question again, what is old age? When does one reach that age?
In conclusion, I can say that each individual handles life in a certain way. There can be hired support or system support. But it is not correct or mandatory for near and dear ones to give up everything whatever they are doing, to help parents in old age. The simple reason for this is we don’t know how long the help will be needed. But I am quite sure that the near and dear ones will shed a tear or two when one is gone; they do not need to feel guilty for not being around.