The Dead-Body Story

Farooque Chowdhury

Areport form a Dhaka hospital is simply bone-chilling. The hospital concerned has reached an understanding with the family of a dead man: all dues, more than a million Taka (the Bangladesh currency), will be paid to the hospital within months. The understanding gave opportunity to the family to have the dead body of the man—a father, a husband.

The man died in the hospital while he was undergoing treatment there. The treatment cost was a few million Taka. The family paid a part of that amount of money, and was failing to pay the rest. The hospital withheld handing over the dead body to the grief-stricken family. It was claiming full payment of its fees and charges. The family, the dead man's two children and wife, was helpless. The Dhaka journalists brought the incident to the health minister's notice. The minister requested the hospital to hand over the dead body considering the incident of failure from a humanist view. The dead body was handed over after the compromise was concluded.

How the money, more than a million, will be paid? The daughter of the dead man doesn't know as she claimed.

The man died on August 15, 2014, and the dead body was handed over on August 17, 2014.

From a business point of view, one may say, withholding the dead body was not wrong. One may say: it would have set a precedent if the dead body was handed over without having all the dues cleared; others, in future, will take opportunity of not paying hospital charges and fees; the hospital has not opened a charity window; it has invested money.

It's a pure money-question: investment and return, loss and profit, ways investment and profit are made. Legal aspect is also there as the incident covers man and money—right to make profit, right to keep confined a dead body by the "creditor", right to have a dead body by the "debtor". Legal experts have the capacity to debate and dissect the incident, and to fine out the fair approach. They can find out the way to justice.

One legal expert can approach the issue on the basis of laws concerning contract. Another legal expert can take a view based on equity. A third lawyer can amalgamate the two, mix it with some more and may try to find an approach appearing more equitable.

But what would have happened to the family that lost the bread earner, a trader, not a deadly-poor person, had not the minister intervened, had not the compromise with the hospital was reached? Had they to wait to have the dead body until the money to be paid could be arranged? Probably. Probably not. Probably some other incident would have developed.

The question of the dead man's family does not get lost whatever way the legal debate leads to. The family can also search answers to questions: Doesn't it have the right to have the dead body? Should money prevail over pain?

Others can raise a few more questions: Is it humane? Is it honorable?

Someone can say: To the dead, what does it matter with the issues of "humane" and "honor"?

Another person can counter: Well, forget the dead, if one likes to forget. But, is it honorable for a city, for a society? Is there any guarantee that someone, a human, will not have the same last-fate in future? In today's world, people are concerned with animal rights. The rich spend millions of dollars for their loved pets. Is not it? Is a human dead body that expendable?

It's difficult, sometimes almost impossible for the weak and the poor to have a bed in a hospital in this city—Dhaka. In this city, the poor can walk in front of any hospital that charges unimaginably high price from its patients. But the poor can't dream of accessing its services.

But a dead body was lying in a hospital waiting for its dues to be paid and to get released so that it can reach its close ones.

Had the dear ones of the dead body that time to shed tears? Or, had they no time to shed tears as they were busy with finding out ways to collect the money the hospital was claiming?

In this city, accessing hospital beds are difficult for the poor and the weak, for the person having no connection to the seats of influence. But it's not difficult for the rich and the powerful.

Shakespeare's reality found Shylock. Dickens' reality found two cities. The present reality will find answers to fundamental rights: whether market shall dominate life and death, whether market shall control pain, time to shed tears and access to the dead body of a dear one, whether market should be allowed to extend its "soft" hands to the world of life or not?

The dead body-story once again exposes the face of the market, exposes the reality of handing over health care to private capital. Questions centering the dead body once again search the relevant parts of the constitution of the republic that promise honor, safety and life for all its citizens.

Vol. 47, No. 10, Sep 14 - 20, 2014