August 25, 2013

BHOWMICK: Helping the Poor Die Rich

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The constitution of almost every democracy contains the infallible promise of “dignity in life and death” — a commitment followed more in the breach than in observance. One remarkable man at Cornell, however, is trying to deliver the promise galley-west: tackling dignity in death for all, before concerning himself with life.  Though this is an “against-the-trodden-path” approach, it is logistically feasible.

Granting dignity in life to everyone is a herculean task. There are a deluge of obstacles in any potential reformer’s way. The people they seek to help often lack political will, or are victims of poverty, violence, illiteracy.  However, ensuring another person dies in peace requires something each one of us can provide: Compassion.

Comprehensive medical assistance delivered with a sense of honest compassion is the nucleus of palliative  care: a harbinger of change in medicine. This is exactly what Dr. Balasubramaniam (“Dr. Balu” in Ithaca and India) works tirelessly to create every summer break. He tries to instill a sense of compassion, divorced from pretense and precariousness, to Cornell students. For once, students’ radii of concern extends beyond prelims, frat basements and Slope Day. The Global Health Program that Dr. Balu leads empowers students simply by convincing them that they can help a man or woman die peacefully; that can enrich the lives of those who have experienced abject poverty in their final and most significant days.

The palliative care units established by Dr. Balu and his organization, Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, extend holistic medical, psychological and spiritual care to those who are chronically ill and poor — usually cancer patients. More often than not, the patient is the only earning member of his or her family. As a result, a mother who is suffering may exacerbate her own condition with the stress of not being able to support her family anymore. The goal of Dr. Balu’s program is to relieve the patients of this additional stress.

When a rich business magnate is chronically ill, he makes his arrangements through wills and whatnot, spends time with his or her loved ones and passes away gracefully. Why then, must a poor man die with depression? Simply because he does not have the financial prowess to assure himself that his loved ones will survive without him?  SVYM helps poor and bed-ridden cancer patients with care at their homes, free of cost.

However, this is not to say that palliative care hastens or postpone death — it simply makes it less draconian. Palliative care is essentially a multidisciplinary approach and requires the contribution of sociologists, policy makers, pre-meds, pre-laws and basically anyone who has a functional heart and mind. The kind of work Dr. Balu does is particularly commendable considering the social stigma associated with several terminal diseases in India — a stigma that is ridiculous but real. Children of patients are often shunned and the patients are considered dead in spirit even before they actually die.

We, as Cornell students, are at the perfect threshold in our lives to help this cause — to help the poor die rich.  A few students who took part in the Global Health Program at Mysore this year have already started to move this cause forward and, as a result, 60 patients and their families have been saved from lives worse than death. The principle is to start small and never be constrained by limits. This is a plea to the Cornell community to help us make this cause limitless by making it your own. Cornell University is a laboratory of leaders, teachers, artists, sportsmen, engineers, creators, stunners but, most importantly, people who truly care about somethings beyond building their resumes.

Aditi Bhowmick is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at abhowmick@cornellsun.com. Abstruse Musings appears alternate Mondays this semester.

Original Author: Aditi Bhowmick

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