Right to die is Duty to Serve!
Death is the natural and necessary end of any one borne into this world. Yet there are some who hate to die at any cost, others who love to die for other reasons. This latter group hates to live and loves to die because life has become unbearable due to various reasons or causes – physical, social, economical, mental, cultural, religious etc.
There are also those who love to die for the sake of love and service to one’s own neighbor. ‘There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for the sake of one’s neighbor’, Jesus said and did it. Referring to it he even went into ecstasy saying: “With a desire have I desired to eat this Pasch with you.” It was this loving desire that prompted Jesus to lay down his life, which is variously called: “Crucifixion”, “Sacrifice”, even “Suicide”, “Deicide” and therefore “Mystery”
(because how can God be killed?).
On the last Friday in Lent, Christians all over the world observe this “Mystery”. There would be a lot of crying and weeping on that Friday and yet they call it the “God Friday” because apparently the greatest good on earth was done on that day. Then why weep over it, instead of rejoicing, because didn’t even the Lord pleaded with the women of Jerusalem sighing and watching him carrying the cross: “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, weep rather for yourselves and your children…. For if men use green wood like this, what will happen when it is dry?”(Lk.23.28) Right, wrong, good, bad or mystery(?), we don’t go into it here.
These days there is also a lot of talk about wanton killings, murder, suicide, doctor-assisted death, euthanasia etc. Suicide is forbidden in most of the countries. Some countries permit it because, advocates of “Right to die as a human right” got such a law passed in those countries. We published reports about instances in Belgium and California recently and discussions are on even in India to introduce such a law in parliament.
Here under discussion is just one incident: The crucifixion of Jesus, soon to be mourned or celebrated. Some call it atrocious and unjust murder, others describe it “Sacrifice for the sins of the world”, some “suicide’ and others “free and loving laying down of his life to save the lives of his disciples.” The following research piece tries to prove that “Right to die is duty to serve,” and every one has that right.
Right to die = Duty to Serve!
Right to die with dignity, mercy killing, euthanasia, suicide, donating one’s organs or even the whole body to a medical college are some of the new topics discussed for clarification and better understanding. It is delicate to discuss them frankly without offending the spiritual sensibilities of many who are led by their own time honored and unquestioned blind beliefs not subjected to rational scrutiny.
Any one born into this world has to get out of it through death sooner or later. It is not given to anyone to have any say either on his own birth or death – where, when, how and why. For believers Jesus alone conceived his own conception, details of his life’s journey and death, planned them in their minutest detail and executed those plans. His followers wax eloquent in extolling his deeds, especially what he did during the three years of his public life, but stop short of imitating him.
Why? Because for the rest of us, once born we all want to stick on to our life and hate even the thought of death. Here again Jesus stands out as a solitary exception. He was born to die, not a normal death but an ignominious death at an early age in his thirties. It seemed, he was rushing headlong to snatch it for himself as a pearl of great price, as his right and privilege to fulfill his duty to serve. Didn’t he even say that he was pining with a burning thirst for that tragic day? (Lk.22.15) In fact he joyfully sacrificed it at the peak of his full-blooded manhood in his thirties.
Yes he lived and laid down his life on his own free will. “I lay down my life in order to take it up again…I lay it down on my own free will and as it is in my power to lay it down, so it is in my power to take it up again”(Jn 10,17-18). Nay the initiative he took was a practical demonstration of the heroic act of love and service he preached. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15.13).It is against this background we have to study and analyse the ongoing discussion on right to die, suicide, euthanasia and mercy killing. Jesus did things for his followers to imitate, just as he taught things for his listeners to learn.
Suicide & Service
If we are to take Jesus’ words quoted above seriously he was the forerunner of those who clamour today for the right to die. But was Jesus’ death a suicide? Putting one’s neck on a rail track before a rushing train is a clear example of a suicide. Jesus never did that. But figuratively at least didn’t he do something similar when he offered himself as “Jesus of Nazareth” to the detachment of guards who came to arrest him for the purpose of doing away with him? What else did he mean when he said: “If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go” (Jn 18, 9) Every sentence of Jn. 18, 1 to 10, deserves to be prayerfully read and meditated to understand what I write here.
The soldiers come with lighted torch and weapons, like a speeding train into the garden where Judas had brought Jesus and other disciples, to execute his plan of betrayal. Seeing the battalion Jesus took the initiative, not the soldiers: “Jesus then came forward and said: ‘Who are you looking for?’ pretending, as if he didn’t know why they came. The previous sentence says, he knew it. Only the soldiers who came to arrest him didn’t know who among them was Jesus. And Jesus answered: “I am he!” Will any thief run to the police and say: “If you don’t know, I am that thief you are looking for? Please hand-cuff me.” Here the soldiers got the shock of their lives from the bold mouthful Jesus uttered and they nervously “moved back and fell to the ground” due to that shock, like a train that dithers and bumps on a forced sudden break. What happened then? Jesus “asked them a second time, ‘who are you looking for?’ They said, Jesus the Nazarien. ‘I have told you, I am he’ replied Jesus. ‘If I am the one you are looking for, let these others go.”(Jn.18,5-9) It was then the soldiers dashed at him, like the halted train which restarts, puts on top gear for high speed to crush the neck neatly placed on the rail track. What will you call that, if not a suicidal act?
Jesus did that In spite of knowing their intentions. He came forward and surrendered to them delightfully. It was not an act of despair, as it happens in the case of most suicides. It was also in his power to escape. For on one occasion when his enemies wanted to kill him by throwing him down from a cliff, he cleverly escaped from their grip as narrated in the gospel (Lk 4.29) because it was not yet time for him to die.
When he finally offered himself to die, he did it as an act of love and service to his friends. If so why similar acts when attempted by anyone should be branded as suicide? An example would be that of a handicapped parent asking his/her able bodied children to run and escape leaving him/her to fall to the bullets of an occupying army or to get drowned in a rushing Tsunami killer wave. What about those who want to commit suicide through self-poisoning or doctor assisted death, in order to put an end to the unbearable burden he/she is becoming to his penniless family whom he/she loves and wants to live a happy life free from all humanly avoidable burdens? Think again of an incurably bedridden person, as was the case of the 25-year old Venkatesh of Andhra, who wanted to donate his organs, but couldn’t do it because of the existing laws and regulations standing in his way.
Often people are made to suffer interminably with killer diseases with no hope of recovery according to known medical science. Euthanasia or mercy killing consists in allowing such people to put an end to their suffering. These terminally ill patients often live a vegetative life or survive on life supporting systems and can never be nursed back to health. So they long for death through mercy killing. Euthanasia is voluntary when requested by the sufferer and involuntary when it is undergone against the will of the patient. For the sake of record Oregon in USA was the first State in the world to legalise it with the “Death with Dignity Act” in 1997. On coming June 9th California will become the 5th state in US to legalize Dr.assisted death, according to reports already published in CCV. The Netherlands followed suit in April 2001 with the passing of physician-assisted suicide. In May 2002 Belgium also legalized euthanasia.
In May 2006 a bill allowing doctor assisted death was introduced in the British parliament by Lord Joel Jaffe. It was defeated with a vote of 140 against 100, with a note to consider it again after six months. The Indian government also has been thinking of introducing a similar bill but was put off due to opposition from Catholic bishops and government health department saying that a such a bill would be misused by those who want to get hold of the dying person’s property, according to reports in papers of June 22, 2006
Devoted children always take good care of their parents in such helpless conditions as their bounden duty. It is the trait of Indian culture. Yet it is also true that in many such instances the parents do not want themselves to become a painful and prolonged burden to their children. As a mark of love and concern for their children many would also want to have a doctor assisted death instead of making themselves an endless burden on their children, financially, physically, mentally and morally. In such cases laying down of one’s life through a doctor assisted death can be seen only as an act of supreme love and service as described by Jesus. Won’t it be misused and abused? Of course it will. Abuse should never stand in the way of good use. There has never been any good rule, which has never been abused or misused.
Donating own Body
It is only the human body that dies, the soul lives on, we believe. Those who are dead and gone before us could be helping us from the other world in invisible ways. Today with the advance of science we can, even after our death, continue to be a source of help to the living in visible ways with a bit of preplanning while alive. This is done every time one donates his organs like eyes, kidney, liver, heart, pancreas, intestine and other vital organs for transplantation or when one bequeaths his whole body to a medical college for the benefit of the clinical study of students. Won’t it be far better than allowing one’s body to be eaten up by worms or burned on a funeral pyre? Today there are social service banks or institutions which collect these organs. One such is the Society for Organ Retrieval and Transplantation (SORT), Kochi, Phone: 2539760 or 9388632630. It was in l994 that India legally approved the process of organ transplanting. This scribe donated his body to the Amrutha Institute of Medical Sciences, Ernakulam, on Aug.18/2009, seventeen years ago through SORT with the signed consent of all 6 members of his family. He prayerfully hopes it will be done by those who live after him.
Jesus’ Last Supper
Figuratively isn’t this that Jesus himself did at the last supper when he symbolically offered his body to be eaten and his blood to be drunk by his disciples and asked them to do the same to commemorate his death which came as a result of his body being torn to pieces on the cross and his blood drained to the last drop in the service truth, love, justice and compassion for all oppressed and suffering humanity? What kind of admirers and followers of Jesus are they who do not allow their bodies to be cut to pieces even after death to be of service to their fellow humans? Many of them instead want their dead bodies to be covered in fine, royal dress, locked in costly coffins and buried in marble tombs like Taj Mahal if possible, forgetting that their bodies also would be eaten by the same variety of dirty worms that eat all bodies.
Even today the practice of selling family tombs for lakhs of rupees is rampant in many parishes, including my parish St.Judes, Thammanam, in spite of protests from rare crazy people like this scribe. Thus burial places, which ought to be the leveling ground of all manmade inequalities is now turned into an exhibition ground to show off the wealth of the rich, affluent and well-to-do in Church and society.
Therefore shouldn’t the exhortation, “do it in memory of me”, mean bequeathing our own bodies to be used for the benefit of posterity in various ways at least after death? And everybody knows that dead bodies themselves or the various vital organs in them can be used to give new life to the living who lack certain vital bodily functions. If Jesus raised his body on the third day we too can raise our bodies even when our eyes give sight to a blind person, when our kidney or heart transplanted into a malfunctioning body helps maintain life through proper blood circulation, when the young generation in medical colleges cut and dissect our bodies to gain all necessary practical knowledge which will shine as new light in their minds for the benefit of coming generations.
Meaningless Funeral Services
Instead of doing this, if we encourage people to perform a whole set of meaningless and worn out traditional rituals and religious observances who are going to benefit from them? It will surely help the priestly class and others for conducting a burial or funeral services in churches, temples or mosques for a pay. It will benefit coffin makers, merchants who sell items for building posh or ordinary tombs, catering agencies who provide food for participants in the burial function, transport operators who shift crowds from place to place, those who put up pandals and decorations suited for all occasions, paid mourners and so on. But what good does the soul which has left the body to take refuge in God get? Absolutely no good at all! Instead, the losers are the dead person’s near and dear ones who are fleeced by these various sections from all sides and who would often go out of their way to spend any amount to please the public, even with borrowed money.
If Jesus wanted his body to become part of our body, his blood to flow in our veins and his vision of service to become the driving force of our lives, the ideal would be to pass on the baton of our bodies to posterity as in a relay race. It is immaterial how the bodies would be used – whether for the purpose the study of anatomy in a medical college mortuary, or for the purpose of salvaging whatever useful organs they may contain for transplantation and grafting in the bodies of ailing persons who are in need of these human body parts.
What is important is to carry on the relay race Jesus started when he handed over his body and blood to his followers and imitate him by handing over the baton of our bodies, as we bid adieu to them, instead of allowing them to become fodder for the worms of the grave or the fury of the funeral pyre so that at least the coming generation may have life and have it in all abundance thanks also to our death and departure from this world. It is this duty to serve that confers on us the Right to die with dignity!
(Note: This researched article was first published in English magazines in 2005. Ora – Organ for Radical Action monthly from Quilon published it in Malayalam in its September issue, 2006. Its updated version was published in 2008 in his book, “Womb To Tomb” from Media house, Delhi.)
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