Thailand: Living Will will help us die in peace

by Sanitsuda Ekachai, Bangkok Post, Jan 11, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand -- My parents did not only live the way I want to live. They also died the way I want to die - peacefully in their own beds in our own home. My worst fear is that I won't be that lucky.

But should we let luck have the last say? We spend so much time and effort to make ours a quality life, should we allow chance to decide the quality of our death?

I had managed to avoid those questions until recently.You see, my parents both passed away when they were 70, so I made myself believe that 70 was also my departure time.

It is a silly notion, yes. But it gives me some sense of certainty and helps me avoid confronting the uncomfortable truth, that death can pull the rug off my feet any day, any time.

The New Year's eve bombings have shattered that illusion. All of a sudden, the strands of grey in my hair seem to be much clearer in the mirror. So are the wrinkles. Indeed, even without the threats of sudden death from terrorism, accidents and severe illnesses, I cannot escape the aging body that keeps telling me my time is running out.

My head may be telling me to prepare for the big moment - but my heart is shaken with fear.

I fear I would be lost in the hospital industry's assembly line and the chain of events out of my control. I fear that in everyone's best intention to save my life, they will refuse to let me go naturally. That the physicians will call my vegetative state, sustained only by respirators and forced feeding, a medical victory. That my family will consider it an act of love.

Because it is not.

With our society turning increasingly grey and the threats of terrorism and natural disasters becoming a fact of life, not to mention car accidents, strokes, cancer and a myriad of diseases that come with our modern lifestyles - I am certain I am not alone in my fear.

That is why we should welcome the Living Will clause in the National Health Bill that gives us the right to stop medical treatment when it is apparent that the medical battle is futile and only prolongs our death.

But here is the glitch. The bill also gives the Public Health Ministry total power to decide how the Living Will should be done and carried out without our say. The challenge now is making our voice heard again before the ministerial rules come out.

This does not mean we should not pen our Living Will. For more often than not, our families are also at a loss. They are afraid they are not doing their best to keep us alive.

Our duty is not only to rescue them from guilt and financial ruin, but also to use ourselves to teach our beloved ones to accept impermanence and death. We can only hope that such awareness will give them more appreciation for life.

We also have a duty to ourselves.

Although we live in a predominantly Buddhist country, we have forgotten the teachings that death is part of our endless lifetimes when we still harbour greed, anger and delusion. We have also forgotten that the quality of our next life is significantly determined by the quality of our mind when we die.

What to expect when our last moments are plagued by pain and anxiety, past regrets and future fear?

The Living Will may enable us to die at home, but it does not end there. To safely navigate the stormy emotions when we face death, we need lots of mental and spiritual practice to see through the illusions of life, and to calmly let go.

We don't know our departure time. But if we keep practising, we can be sure of a safe landing before we begin our new journey.

Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor, Bangkok Post.
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