Should a critically-ill old person be put to sleep

 Should a critically-ill old person be put to sleep

Rajkumari Sharma Tankha

The other day I was watching an episode Sister Mariam’s Dilemma of Zindagi Ke Crossroads on Sony TV. Of and on I do watch this serial since they show some complex issues through small fictional stories and then discuss what a person stuck in a difficult life situation should do, also discussed are the pros and cons of various decisions. In this particular episode, the story was about a nurse Mariam, who is shown as a very caring and helping woman, so much so that she is christened Robinhood by one and all.

She is a head nurse at Lifecare Hospital and a stickler for rules and regulations, very conscientious about her duties. She fines the ward boys, junior nurses and junior doctors for tiny misdemeanours, the penalty being Rs 100, and uses this money to buy food and medicines for the poor and needy.

Presently, she gets two different patients in the hospital where she works. One is an old man, who is later put on ventilator, and another is a young accident victim (who enters the story towards the end) who needs a couple of organs to survive.

The story begins with the old man’s son requesting sister Maria to turn off the ventilator switch so that his father dies and he can get the insurance amount of Rs 25 lakh, the money he needs badly to bring his life back on track. He has only three days after which the insurance policy will lapse. “If my father dies in the next three days, I can get Rs 25 lakh insurance amount with which I can marry my sisters and live a comfortable life,” the son tells Maria. The son begs Mariam to pull the plug on his father as keeping him alive will deprive the family of the much-needed insurance money. He also tells her that he needs only about Rs 17-18 lakh, the rest amount Maria can take to “help whosoever she wants”. He even brings the organ donation form signed by his mother which authorises the hospital to donate old man’s organs.

That sets Maria thinking, who is shown every day thinking whether she should pull the plug on the old man’s life or not.

Even as Mariam is grappling with the issue, a young accident victim arrives at the hospital, in critical condition. His organs have failed and he requires an immediate liver and kidney transplant. His parents beg the doctors to do something to save their son.

“Pulling the ventilator off the old man can save the life of the accident victim, help the old man’s life family and I also get the money to help poor and needy,” Maria thinks to herself.

And that’s where the entire story turns into a very pathetic tale. Now, while Mariam has no courage to turn off the ventilator, what she does is infinitely more cruel. She goes into the room of the old man and literally curses him. Every time she goes in, she tells him, “Why don’t you die. Why are you clinging on to life? Your death will help so many people,” she tells the old man every single time he enters his room.

That’s not only unethical but inhuman too. We all know when a patient is on ventilator, his body is non-functional but the mind is alert. In fact, healthcare specialists tell caregivers to constantly talk to the person even when he/she is in coma so that he feel wanted and loved and strengthens his/her willpower to get well. But here we have a nurse, who is actually cursing the patient, scolding him of obstructing the way of his son’s wealth (the money he will get once the father dies) and progress. That Mariam is also thinking about how the money will “help poor and needy whom she wants to help” as also the old man’s liver and kidney that will augment the other young patient’s life is all ok, but doing all this at the expense of another life is something that didn’t go down well with me. It seems the producer and the director of the programme are saying that old people in critical health conditions should die.

Not just this, the discussion that happened after the story is more heart-breaking. There were many people who said that pulling the plug on the old man’s life is a fine thing. Host Ram Kapoor says that’s the practical thing to do, he also says that he and his wife Gautami also teach their children to think practically and not emotionally when faced with tricky life situations…What are we if we move emotions out of our psyche?

What are the times we are living in? Aren’t we becoming robots? I don’t deny that at times we have to and we must think and act practically but can we play with the life of another person, however old or sick he/she may be?

Also, parents never favour one child over the other or think of killing the child when he/she is afflicted with a life-threatening disease. They do all that is in their might to save the child. Why is it so difficult for the children to do the same for their parents?


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  • It is time the elderly think of writing a LIVING WILL clearly stating what they want their children or other caregivers to do when faced with a ‘pulling the plug’ situation.

    • you are so very right ma’am. I dont know whats happening to people, some are so so money-minded that they wont work, and remain as pests on their parents the whole of life.

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