Friday Sermon: Death of a Roadside Mechanic

By Babatunde Jose

It’s a law of nature that something that takes birth also dies out one day. Everyone tries to delay it, run away from it,  but death always catches up and then it ends. Death being inevitable is only reason why life gains its meaningDeath helps us to find our purpose to exist.

It seems disrespectful to discuss the “meaning and value” of death. The preciousness of life underlies all clinical disciplines and preservation of life is a paramount clinical goal. Understandably, for clinicians death is the enemy to be conquered, and when it occurs, it represents defeat and failure. Phenomenologically, death is nonbeing. The essential nature of life entails activity, purpose, and making order from disorder. Death is the antithesis of life. Nonlife is inactive, and despite its stillness, death is chaos. Life generates its own meaning. In contrast, on its face death appears devoid of meaning and value. Because philosophically we cannot know anything with certainty about death, we must accept that death itself may (or may not) be meaningless. Nevertheless, it is apparent that the fact of death profoundly impacts our understanding— and experience—of meaning in life. Although it remains unknowable, death’s relationship to life is essential and as profound as the relationship of darkness to light. Death need not illuminate life, it is sufficient for death to provide the back- ground against which the light of life is seen. It is from this perspective, both clinically and philosophically, that the question: “What is the meaning and value of death?” becomes relevant and approachable.

The concept of death has a use for the living, while death itself has no use for anything. All we can say about death is that it is either real or it is not real. If it is real, then the end of one’s life is a simple termination. … For those who think it is not real, death is a door to another life. Traditionally, death has been defined as the irreversible cessation of cardiac and respiratory activity, a definition commonly used in emergency medicine settings. However, the duration of cardiopulmonary cessation at which point death occurs remains unclear. This is further complicated by advancements in technology, such as mechanical ventilation, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, and cardiac bypass where cardiopulmonary function may cease for prolonged periods but brain function is sustained. Defining the time point at which a patient’s cessation of cardiopulmonary functioning is considered irreversible may vary greatly among practitioners and institutions and may be influenced by the patient’s underlying state of health or associated co-morbidities.

The laws, customs, and rituals of various religions all have an organizational component associated with them. It is useful to consider the Islamic perspective of death in the framework of other Abrahamic traditions.

There is rabbinic debate within the Talmud regarding the definition of death. One opinion is that death is the irreversible cessation of breathing, whereas others assert that death is the irreversible cessation of the heartbeat. The Hebrew word for life, nefesh, is explicitly linked to breath by the Torah “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”…(Genesis 2:7). Moreover, the words that describe the animating spirit that defines life, neshamah and ruaḥ, similarly relate to respiration. From the Jewish perspective, as long as person breaths, the heart functions, and the blood circulate, death has not yet occurred.

The modern Christian view seems to be based on a willingness to accept that loss of all brain function is sufficient evidence that the surviving body is no longer integrated with the soul. This view was most clearly articulated by Pope John Paul II in 2000 when he acknowledged that medical criteria cannot determine “the exact moment of a person’s death” but are valid “as a scientifically secure means of identifying the biologic signs that a person has indeed died.” He further stated that “for ascertaining the fact of death, namely the complete and irreversible cessation of all brain activity if rigorously applied, does not seem to conflict with the essential elements of a sound anthropology.”  Pope Benedict XVI subsequently expanded on this by stating: “There is no “right” kind of death. When meeting at a final common endpoint, death, the order in which heart, lung and brain cease to function do not define different deaths. There are, however, different forms of death and most people are more comfortable and obviously used to the traditional “cardio-respiratory arrest” form of death”.

The idea that brain death represents true death in Islam remains a subject of great debate. Just as secular legal systems comprise multiple sources of law that at times appear at odds with one another, the same is true for faith-based judicial systems.

The Holy Quran emphasizes the universality of death (Quran 3:156, 3:185, 29:57, and 39:42), and from its teachings, one would gather that the moment of death (al mawt) would be at the time the soul is separated from the soulless body (al Mawât). However, there is neither a precise definition of death nor a precise description of how to recognize the departure of soul from the soulless body in either the Quran or the Sunnah. These specific issues were discussed 35 years ago at a seminar where the participants concluded that the Quran does not define death. ; In: Al-Mazkur K, ed. Seminar on Human Life: Its Inception and End as Viewed by Islam. Kuwait: Islamic Organization for Medical Sciences: Kuwait Foundation for Advancement of Sciences; 1985

How one defines death may vary among cultured traditions. It is important for clinicians to recognize those aspects of a patient’s religious beliefs that may not only directly influence medical care or the decisions of health-care surrogates but also how such practices may interface with local laws governing the determination of death. Debate continues about the validity and certainty of brain death criteria within Islamic circles. Although brain death is accepted as true death by a majority of Muslim scholars and medical organizations, as evidenced by decisions from faith-based medical organizations, and the legal rulings by multiple nations, the consensus in the Muslim world is not unanimous, and there is a sizable minority that still accepts death by cardiopulmonary criteria only.

Of the roughly 150,000 people who die each day across the globe, about two thirds—100,000 per day—die of age-related causes. Ischaemic heart disease and stroke are the world’s biggest killers, accounting for a combined 15.2 million deaths in 2016. These diseases have remained the leading causes of death globally in the last 15 years.

Toyin Alayande our ‘roadside mechanic’ died of heart condition. He was already slated for an operation before he gave up the ghost. For nearly 25 years, he was a permanent fixture on our roadside at Alagomeji. He was everyone’s mechanic. Like all ‘roadside mechanics’, he was a scoundrel but we were all used to him and his antics. According to his wife, Toyin must have had a massive cardiac arrest in the very early hours of the morning and died immediately. For months he had resided in a hospital but went home that weekend, ostensibly to die at home: Allah knows best. For Toyin the words of Job are very consoling: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not…” Job 14

May his soul rest in peace; amen.

Barka  Juma’at and a happy weekend

Parting Shot: We seek freedom from dying but in the process we forget the more important thing- life.


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