THIS ABOVE ALL
Liberty to die
does God make the personís exit from life so painful?" I asked in
a letter to my longtime friend Jaya Thadani who lives half the year in
the US, and the other half in London. I havenít seen her for 40 years
but we write to each other every week. She is a devout, practising Roman
Catholic; I am an equally devout agnostic. Like all devoutly religious
people she is very touchy about questions relating to God, ritual and
life hereafter. Whenever I tread on her corns, she hits back and demands
an apology. I readily express regret and ask to be forgiven. However,
she was pleased to receive my question and answered it at some length,
enclosing an article based on the late Pope John Paulís thoughts on
Pope Paul II was in poor
health for some years before he died a few months ago. In 1984 he put
down his views on suffering in an apostolic letter, Salvifici
Doloris. I quote the first two paragraphs: "Suffering seems
inseparable from manís earthly existence. Suffering evokes compassion.
It evokes respect but it also intimidates. At the basis of all
suffering, there is the question; why? The inevitability of that
question is precisely what makes suffering distinctively human. Pain is
everywhere in the animal world. But only the suffering human being
wonders why he is suffering. And he suffers in a still deeper way if he
does not find a satisfactory answer to that question.
"Men put the question
of ĎWhy is there suffering?í not to the world, but to God. And
whereas the existence of the world opens the eyes of human souls to the
existence of God ó to His wisdom, power and greatness ó evil and
suffering seem to obscure His image, especially during the daily drama
of so many cases of undeserved suffering, and of so many faults without
He goes on to the story of
Job, a good, God-fearing man who had done no harm to anyone in his life.
He was prosperous with farm-lands, herds of cattle and a large family of
sons and daughters. God took on a bet with Satan that no matter what
Satan did, Job would remain firm in his faith in God. So Satan deprived
him of his wealth, his family and finally inflicted his body with sores.
Job remained unflinching in his faith. So, evidently, God won the bet.
Nobody is quite sure what
Jobís story is meant to convey. I find it totally amoral. Pope Paul
found its meaning in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ ó a man who
besides harming no one cured hundreds suffering from blindness, leprosy
and other diseases. Christís last appeal when nailed on the Cross was
a cry of anguish. "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"
The Pope and all devout
Catholics find the answer to suffering in the crucifixion of Christ. He
goes on to say: "In suffering there is a concealed power which
draws a person close to Christ. When his body is gravely ill, totally
incapacitated, and the person is almost incapable of living and acting,
all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become
"All suffering is, in
itself, the experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the
firmest basis for the definitive good of eternal salvation. Man hears
Christís saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the
sufferings of Christ. It is suffering, more than anything else, which
clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. In suffering,
a man discovers himself ó his own humanity, his own dignity, his own
I found this explanation
beyond my comprehension and unacceptable. My explanation of suffering
and pain in the last phases of oneís life is utterly mundane. As one
gets older, nature deprives one of the means of enjoying life: oneís
vision is impaired, teeth gone, hearing defective, joys of eating and
drinking reduced. Then come old-age ailments like arthritis, backaches,
inability to walk, and so on. It is nature which compels one to come to
the conclusion that one canít bear pain and suffering any longer and
you say to yourself: "I canít take this any more; enough is
enough. It is time for me to go." That is why I believe a person
has the right to end his or her life when fun has gone out of living.
About 10 years ago, I met
and befriended an American lady, Dee Morgan, in Washington. She had many
Indian friends, organised a public meeting for me and gave me a lavish
farewell party when I left. We keep in touch through letters and
exchange of books. She is evidently a lady of substance as she moves
from one villa to another on the Californian coast. She heard about my Death
at my Doorstep and approved of the right of every person to end his
or her life when they felt they could not take any more because of
terminal illness or unbearable pain. She sent me Final Exit by
Derek Humphrey (Delta), founder of the Hemlock Society which propagates
the right to die with dignity.
Humphrey was on the staff
of Londonís Sunday Times. He migrated to the US and joined Los
Angeles Times. His first wife, 22-year-old Jean, got cancer, which
was both extremely painful and incurable. They consulted a few doctors
before they found one willing to help her die. By then her bones had
begun to snap and she was in agony. One morning in 1975, she begged her
husband to let her go. They sat talking to each other of their happier
days. He mixed the lethal drug the doctor had prescribed in a cup of
coffee and helped her drink it up. She went into a coma and died
peacefully 50 minutes later.
Humphrey wrote about it.
No publisher would accept his manuscript. So he published it at his own
expense through the Hemlock Society. It made the top of The New York
Timesí bestseller list for 18 weeks, raking in over a million
dollars in royalties for its author and his society. Its success proved
that millions of people are interested in finding out what is the least
painful way to go.
is a practical guide on how to do yourself in. It deals with methods
that have tried: cyanide capsules, overdose of sleeping pills, shooting
in the head or heart, injecting air-bubbles in veins, hanging, drowning,
crashing into trains, etc. All very gruesome. He ends with listing drugs
which make the exit much easier and less messy.
Suicide can never be a
cheerful topic. But there are moments in everyoneís life when he or
she would like to fade away into oblivion. To wit John Keatís immortal
lines in his Ode to the Nightingale:
Darkling I listen; and
for many a time
I have been half in love
with easeful death
Called him soft names in
many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my
Now more than ever seems
it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight
with no pain."
Santa: "We get
Banta: "You are very
Santa: "Not really.
We get electricity 24 days in a month, 7 hours a day."
(Contributed by Rajeshwari