An Indian term for Auto-Destruct
The premise of this post is, no one can guarantee my life, so why should the State have any right to prevent me from planning my own death? Why should auto destruct be considered an offense? Why should people that fail in their attempt to self destruct, be put in jail afterward, if they survive ? If a computer program can be relied upon to decide its own end, why can’t an intelligent human be trusted with his own life?
When I talk of Ichhyamrityu I am NOT discussing Suicide. Am not suicidal. Nor a quitter. And am not depressed although I am definitely disturbed – even unhappy.
In ancient India, sages (Munis), wise men (Rishis), some kings and queens practised and enjoyed the privilege of auto-destruct or Ichhyamrityu. Ichhya is the Sanskrit word for ‘wish’/’choice’, Mrityu is the Sanskrit word for ‘death’ ‘end of one life cycle’.
Among epic characters, Bhishma had used this privilege. One can read about him in the Mahabharata. The idea appeals to me. The power and privilege to choose when, how, where I breathe my last, gives me a far better sense of control over my present as a whole. It also enhances my status as an individual in my own mind. It also implies I leave when I wish to.
I visited Kolkata recently – I noticed the city seems to have slided from being bad to worse in terms of negligence. Wherever you happen to look you observe an apparent lack of caring or inability to take responsibility for welfare or well being of citizens, travelers, passers-by, dwellers. Things like roads, buildings, transport look like “put together” “managed” – as opposed to planned, well thought out, as it should be, in a developing or prosperous urbane space. I realized that I do not wish to die there.
I realized that I wish to die in a serene and beautiful place – maybe a jungle, or the quiet, lovely, musical, eloquent cleanliness and privacy of my own bedroom in my home somewhere. (I haven’t been able to create it yet, I live off my suitcases still, being a poor and lonely school teacher fond of travelling, in Gujarat, India).
It set me thinking. I thought about how I want my end to be. I was sure that I did not want to die SUDDENLY. Or unexpectedly, leaving behind unfinished work. I do not wish to die of DIS-EASE. I do not want to die accidentally or in the hands of a terrorist. Or a petty thief or a rapist.
Even in the West, people plan their end when they plan their burial – they keep money aside for funeral expenses, choose and reserve a place in the burial grounds, choose and buy stone that would be at their graves, some even write down their own epitaphs – the matter they wish to be carved on their headstone at their grave.
Then there are sophisticated computer programs that are designed to auto-destruct in a state of dysfunction, or when its life cycle comes to an end, or when it thinks it has becomes redundant. The program is designed to read the situation, interpret data and take the decision to auto-destruct.
It made me think – if a little computer program can be relied upon to handle such a huge responsibility on its own about its own life cycle, should not intelligent, highly capable, healthy humans be also endowed with such control and rights over their own lives?
We could still not make up our collective minds about Euthanasia or Abortion and I know this would come to the community at this stage as a shock. I know am way ahead here. A Mother cannot decide the inheritance or fate of her own child? Abort if she feels its bad for it? Too bad.
Euthanasia on the other hand, is about a receiving death in an incurable state of pain or agony, implying that if that state of pain was corrected, the person may change his mind about terminating life. A patient is definitely not in the best position to DECIDE or make a CHOICE. So the debate here is understandable.
But, a perfectly healthy, normal, happy, intelligent adult is or should have this privilege. Unstable people, patients, the frail, weak, dependent – animals cannot be expected to do it (although they do, in fact).
All literature dealing with Section 309, the Law Commission’s recommendation to scrape it talk about desire to die in terms of respite from duress – physical, mental, emotional, social. It talks about the criminal aspect of it when considering death caused by a suicide bomber to thousands of innocent unwilling people.
Somebody discusses Santhara in a blog post condemning auto-destruct but also clearly underlining the fact that though the State opposes on grounds that life is resource and hence precious – it has no way of providing for any decent level of security at all really. Another person points out how it is actually a waste on the State exchequer dealing with it the way it has been traditionally.
What about the more pertinent Rights issues regarding the individual’s choice? If I am slogging for a certain quality of life, I am equally concerned about the quality of my death.
The motive is important here : whether I choose a manner of death for my own well being or with evil intent.
If I am the person that has to take care of my personal well being, I would want to take care of this too, myself. The State, if it really thinks of me as precious resource, should actually help – ensure that I die as planned and not by accident or through machinations of an evil terrorist or a petty criminal.
As soon as motive becomes an important consideration, it becomes easier to think about issues like “what do we do with suicide bombers?” They intended to hurt the community. Well, put them in court and try them for murder.
But the hard working, intelligent, contributing, able adult gets what he deserves – good death.
Jains have a tradition of planning their end, so did ancient Hindus. Culturally, Ichhyamrityu has always been there here in India, seen as a boon to be granted, as a precious privilege.
Choosing how I wish to die is the flip side of self-preservation I think. An insurance against accidental death, if it can be made possible to exist as a privilege and right granted to a citizen.
Why do the State Laws make it seem like the citizens are like children? That they need to be protected from themselves, be it with Section 377 or 309 (by now the second one should have been repealed).
Are we so bloody miserably poorly evolved that we cannot be more responsible than an otherwise stupid human designed computer program ? Or have we become less wiser than those old Rishis and Munis of yore with passing time that we cannot handle our own lives or deaths anymore?
There is a poll here that you could take to indicate your choice or opinion.