• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

Aging and dying are inevitable. However, coming to terms with this truth can be difficult, especially in the modern context with an excessive dependence and faith in biomedicine. Advances in biomedicine and life-prolongation strategies along with changes in social-cultural structures pose a different kind of predicament – the percentage of aging population is on the rise and, at the same time, traditional strategies for taking care of the elderly and their problems are being replaced by more impersonal state-driven methods. India, with its large population, poor biomedical facilities for the average person, and widespread poverty, yet fast changing attitudes towards family and the aged, faces a great crisis today.

The collection of essays in this volume addresses different aspects of this issue. The first section is both philosophical and prescriptive. It explores our rich religious and philosophical tradition to probe the very concepts of life and death and then suggests strategies - age old and time-tested - for coping with the inevitability of aging and dying. Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic perspectives on aging, dying, euthanasia, and related concepts are explored and coping strategies suggested.

The second section deals with socio-ethical issues related to aging and dying in the Indian context, in light of the existing state of affairs and possible directions for the future. The third and final section looks at the most pressing problems that confront both Indian society and medicine – end-of-life care.

The Art of Dying with Dignity
The art of dying with dignity

The typical attitude of human beings towards life, old age and death has been painted by Charles Churchill (1731–64) in the following words:

Old age, a second child, by Nature cursed

With more and greater evils than the first,

Weak, sickly, full of pains; in ev'ry breath

Railing at life and yet afraid of death. (p. 98)

Strangely enough, man, in general, cherishes some constitutional in-built beliefs and attitudes. For example, everybody nourishes the idea that he or she will continue to live forever or at least for a long time. In answer to a question by Yaksha, King Yudhisthira of Mahabharata fame said, ‘The wonder of wonders is that everyday living beings are being devoured by Death, but ...

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