The human race has been incomparably successful in mastering its
environment through the ages. In both numbers and distribution we
have excelled, and in recent generations we have doubled our longevity
and more than quadrupled our birth rate.
The penalty we must pay for this runaway success is the cost to
our environment. There are now so many of us in the world that the
planet's resources are showing signs of irreversible fatigue. Oil
is running out, ancient rain forests are being decimated, our remaining
coal stock is almost exhausted, the ozone layer is breaking down
and global warming is melting the Polar ice caps. Food chains are
now swelled by chemical additives, growth hormones and antibiotics,
and both quality and nutritional value are deteriorating as a result.
Pollution is widespread and the human race is suffering from the
toxic by- products of its industrial success. The world is nearing
Despite these menacing portents we are proliferating faster than
ever before. From a paltry 2.5bn in 1950 our population has mushroomed
to 5.5bn today. We are increasing at a staggering quarter million
new faces every day, and in a generation from now we will have swelled
to over 8bn. If this kind of environmental pressure was brought
to bear on livestock herds, poultry flocks, or fish shoals then
we would expect to see signs of aggressive behaviour leading to
victimisation, a breakdown of the immune system, an increase in
disease and a growing incidence of birth deformities. The first
of these, aggression, is already widespread in our inner cities,
while AIDS, Ebola Fever and BSE are all examples of the second15.
15 The ebola virus was first identified in Zaire. It is highly infectious causing a rapid failure of all organs. Death rate is around 90%. It is incurable.
There are over 1100 PVS patients in the UK at this time, unknowingly
and unconsciously enduring the new medical advances which prevent
them from dying. PVS (Persistent Vegetative State) is a condition
new to science - in the old days the injured, sick or aged died
of what used to be called 'natural causes'. Such incidences challenge
our collective conscience and we now cling to the often ignominious
remnants of physical life for want of a spiritual belief, or more
likely, threat of legal action; from a practical viewpoint we worship
a false god, the god of earthly premise.
We shy from such morally contentious issues as euthanasia and controlled
life support, and allowing the misformed tragedies of natural birth
to die of natural causes, or by the absence of unnatural medical
intervention. We search for collective laws to spare us the responsibility
of making individual choices, and make one decree to govern a multitude
of different situations; we prolong human life and suffering beyond
its allotted span; we strive to control the output of life with
our zealous geriatric care and miracle medicines) without attempting
to control the input of life, through the responsible implementation
of birth control, pre natal screening and, where appropriate, abortion.
The 1996 outcry over the destruction of three thousand human embryos,
miniature test-tube miracles past their 'sell by' date, demonstrate
how ill-prepared we are to accept responsibility for our technological
achievements. With the unstoppable achievements of modern medicine
go unprecedented problems. Two nuns were among the many applicants
offering to host these hapless innocents.
Bereavement and grief will trigger change in our spiritual perspectives.
For a mother clutching her dying child no obstacle would or should
stand in the way of attempted resuscitation; most of us do not know
how we would react under this sort of stress, so generalisations
must be restricted to points of discussion.
Professional practitioners, however, plunged suddenly into the
life and death struggles of their charges could be readily tempted
to arouse false hopes, or engage in experimental life saving techniques,
multiple organ transplants or animal inserts, suppressing natural
defence systems by anti rejection drugs and antibiotics, all of
which could make them famous and put their careers on the map. It
would be easy for clear judgement to become clouded under these
The Right to Life lobbies proclaim their valid if unilateral views
on contraception and abortion, even when it conflicts with respected
medical advice or responsible parenting, or when pregnancy results
from juvenile sexual violation, gang rape or incest. In the case
of genetic disorders we may seek to prolong the life of our sickly
child with desperate searches for the organs of the dying or the
newly dead. We do this for the best of human reasons, but reasons
which are frequently experimental and generally devoid of spiritual
belief; reasons which fail to acknowledge that the gift of life
is no more than a loan to mankind. We submit to a questionable urge
to challenge the right of our god and the life force to know better
than we do. This is what the Greeks called Hubris, the sin of mankind
who dares to challenge the gods on their own ground. This misjudged
search for eternal life voices the indignant cry of the self righteous
few who believe that life is theirs to order and control.
We must banish desire, as Gautama Buddha directs us, that we might
find peace in our acceptance of Life's eternal plan. We must discern
between our desire to provide care for our loved ones and our wish
to snatch them back from the dead for our own motives. So what should
we do when confronted with some of the greater moral dilemmas of
life and death? I believe we should draw from a balanced union of
heart and soul, and learn to accept responsibility for our own decisions,
which, if truly ours, will be right; right for us and right for
our god and for our conscience.
While we should cherish life, so also must we revere the powerful
experience of death, and let go of our physical hold on the spiritual
journeys of others. Our generation has become preoccupied with Life
and we rally to change the path of fate when it suits us. Fate assures
us of death, ours and our loved ones; but free will alone brings
us the choice of our response to it. It is now customary to clutch
at the transitory state of physical life at sometimes unreasoned
cost, in an unhappy disregard for our professed faith or our respect
for the souls of the dying and the dead. We have forgotten how to
respect death's dignity.
Our body is a low-frequency vehicle in the vibrationally low-frequency
world of matter, our planet earth. When our body dies our spirit
is released, to continue its spiritual evolution in the ether of
eternal consciousness and the affinity with its wondrous source.
The Tibetan writer Sogyal Rimpoche reminds us to observe the great
calm required at the time of our death. We need to experience this
most profound time in peace, and I feel only disquiet for those
who die under the frantic stress of invasive resuscitation techniques,
high voltage currents, saline drips, adrenaline pumps and other
unnatural intrusions. These valiant life-saving efforts frequently
lead to brain damage, sense deprivation or vegetative states supported
indefinitely by mechanical means. Those that recover temporarily
often wait until they are alone before taking their last breath
- dying is a profoundly personal affair.
Doctors, patients and next-of-kin may encounter situations they
find dire and grim. Matters of life and death make great demands
on us. The veracity of judgements made from a biological standpoint
will always be open to question. Whereas those made from a spiritual
perspective will withstand the test of time.
Good health belongs to the spirit, not just the body. Perhaps
we could learn something from the unchallenged rhythm of life and
death in the animal world, the world of our physical heritage, where
sickness is usually fatal and death goes unlamented.