The traditional Hindus believe in the continuity of life after death. There is a great degree of sanctity attached to the pre-death worship, performance of last rites and to the rituals both before and after the death. It is h4ly believed that the type and mode of death is an important determinant of the peace for the immortal soul ever thereafter. An easy and peaceful death is crucial to attain ‘nirvana’ or ‘mukti’ i.e. liberation from the sufferings and miseries of the life and the death cycle.
The terminal care therefore essentially focuses to achieve the ‘best possible’ quality of life without interfering with the attempt to prolong the life. There is supreme importance of ‘care beyond cure’ and to ‘dying with dignity’. Factually, the Hindu concept of life is centred around respiration and the length of life is measured by the ‘limited’ number of breaths which are fixed. Many a life-prolonging treatments especially the artificial continuation of breathing with the help of ventilators are therefore in direct conflict with the traditional viewpoint. This, I believe is applicable only for artificial continuation of life in an otherwise death (e.g. the brain-dead) individual than for assisted respiratory support as a mode for treatment.
Palliative treatment in Hinduism is quite in conformity with the existing concept of terminal care which involves the ‘care beyond cure’ philosophy. One aims to prevent, relieve or soothe the symptoms of disease without affecting a cure. The pre-terminal (and terminal) are designed to offer symptomatic relief from the pain and suffering of approaching death. It is not a substitute or an alternative to curative treatment, but only an acceptance of the inevitability and of the limitations of life-prolonging treatments.
Both the individual and the family are generally concerned with the last wish acts, and rituals near the death. Death in the bed is analogous to death of the sick which must be avoided. A dying individual is preferably moved to the floor – not for cardiac massage but to lie in the lays of mother-earth. Verses from the holy books such as the Gita or the Vedas should be sung and the water from the sacred rivers, especially the Ganges should be made available. The dying does like to bless the children as much as hey like to be blessed. There is no better death for a Hindu senior than to die with everyone of the progeny around.
After-death handling of the body is both sacred and ceremonial. It must be properly cleaned and bathed. Nice and preferably new clothes, sometimes including the jewellary are worn before consigning the body to the flames.
Generally speaking, the degree of emotional attachment and inter-dependence is high in Hindu families. A sudden, or even a slow exit of a member of the family is mourned and remembered for long. The period required for resolution of grief is longer. It is possibly for this very reason that a number of sacred acts are undertaken afterwards. For example, the body remains and ashes are collected on the 3rd day or so and immersed in a sacred river. Several other functions are undertaken in the next two weeks and on fixed intervals in the following year.
(Ex-Professor & Head, Department of Pulmonary Medicine
Postgrad Instt of Med Edu & Res, Chandigarh, India)
Medical Director, Jindal Clinics, SCO 21, Dakshin Marg, Sector 20 D,
Near Guru Ravi Das Bhawan, Chandigarh, India 160020.
Ph. Clincis: +91 172 4911000, Res. +91 172 2712030/ 31