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A paradox of life and death

/ 05:20 AM August 25, 2017

My mother spent three days in an intensive care unit before we said farewell. There was an element of “playing God” in it—we “kept” her alive long enough for the family to be able to gather and say goodbye. There were measures taken in order to keep her heart pumping and her blood pressure up—all the artificial markers of being alive—and these were called “extraordinary measures.” In the end it had to be accepted that she could never be truly revived. We were left with a body and a medical bill of around half a million, as well as the detritus of a fiftysomething-year-old life, a thousand loose ends and a lifetime of grief. There was so much cost to even keeping her alive for just one more hour, and it was a cost we would have paid without flinching if there was even a chance of survival. It put me in mind of my internship in a public hospital, and the vials of norepinephrine there, treated with care and reverence because they were worth a lot of money, and could buy a few minutes of life.

We alone do not bear the burden of grief. My mother is not the only one who died in the last year, and moreover she died of causes that medicine could not yet reverse. In losing her we rail against the unfairness of the world, but there was at least no injustice in the way she died. We can’t imagine how different our grief would be if, instead of dying, she had been killed.

We have the moral responsibility to be upset about the death of Kian delos Santos—future generations should be able to see our outrage. We have the right to mourn that a life was taken and a young one at that, and we have an opportunity to make that death our insight into thousands of
others—all done outside the orderly circumstances of what our criminal justice system should be. Any moral judgment of Kian’s character or culpability can only be, to a logical and intelligent mind, a different matter. And those who have given everything—lives and resources—to keep a person or a family member alive ought to feel it most of all: the helpless rage of a Filipino who is trying to keep somebody alive, while bodies are being dumped right and left. If lives are so disposable, then what the hell are we still doing in the hospital? Why are we devoting our lives to other people’s lives while others are summarily ended, and their end even applauded?

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The Facebook photos are graphic, but they’re nowhere near graphic enough. There were no doctors to close their eyes, no nurses to remove lines and devices and to wrap the bodies in blankets against a cold they could no longer feel. For some there were no funerals. I would take our ICU experience over theirs a thousand times over.

For anyone to deny the fact of these killings is too absurd even to discuss. There are many terms for what is happening—extrajudicial killings, murder. So much breath and saliva and social media space are dedicated to debating the nitty gritty of culpability and circumstances and the social benefits of getting rid of drug pushers, and not enough—never enough—outrage at the fact that these are lives, and it is the law that should be deciding their guilt, and not armed men with no accountability. How disgusting that all the advances of thought and human rights in the past century should give way to bloodlust. How disgusting that as society devotes immeasurable resources so that medicine can evolve to extend lives for one year, one day, one hour, one minute, it should also spare so little thought to the cost of mass executions as long as the people involved are suspicious, or poor, or both.

How much longer? How much longer before we find enough outrage to catalyze another revolution? How much longer before we end this farce of a society that bemoans the lack of money to fund adequate primary healthcare system but celebrates killings? Don’t these other lives—anonymous and distant as they might feel to
the reader—deserve “extraordinary measures” to keep them alive, too?

kchuarivera@gmail.com

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